TAMPA — It was a decision that would seal my fate in ways my parents probably didn’t imagine back in late 1981, amid the excitement of getting ready to welcome their first child six months later. My father, using his favorite Pentel rollerball pen, had made a box around one name, separating it from the rest.
Listed among the variants of “Amelia (Old German), hard-working” was their choice: Amalie. It was the answer to my parents’ simple requirements of “being unusual” and “starting with an A.”
That was it. That’s the whole story. It was there. It was unusual. It started with A. Of course, given that “Shemp” was listed under the possibilities for a boy on their baby-naming worksheet, perhaps I should feel fortunate.
Over the 32 years that the name Amalie has been mine, I have learned the workarounds. I have learned the shortcuts. I have learned that, upon meeting someone new, the best way to get them to understand and to pronounce my name is a simple rhyming game.
“It’s AM-uh-lee,” I will say. “It rhymes with ‘family.’ ”
That helps. Sometimes. Not always.
When I give my name at a restaurant or at Starbucks or for a pizza, I use “Emily.” It’s easier on everyone, though perhaps not the barista in Detroit last spring who wrote “Emely” on my decaf vanilla latte. In fact, that’s how you know you matter to me: I generally make sure you (eventually) get it right.
So that is how I came to be here, driving a rented RAV4 and turning onto Old Water Street in downtown Tampa. That is why, on a Bruins off day, I had flown 1,343 miles to see yet another hockey arena in yet another city.
Because this one was different. This one was mine.
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s newly christened Amalie Arena — my name bursting off the side of the building in blue neon — offered the chance for something I’ve never known in my life. This building meant that perhaps, just possibly, someone would be able to pronounce my name correctly on the first try. Maybe.
I walked confidently into the lobby of my Tampa hotel, from which you could easily see the giant letters blazing into the night. A-M-A-L-I-E. Impossible to miss, I thought, as I checked in with the desk clerk.
“Amelia,” she said. “Just for the one night?”
This wasn’t going to be as easy as I had imagined.
. . .
I learned of the name change on Twitter on Sept. 3. Hockey beat writers, one after the other, tweeted increasingly incredulous messages. The Tampa Bay Times Forum — once the St. Petersburg Times Forum, once the Ice Palace — would now bear the burden of an unpronounceable moniker.
Amalie Oil, a company known to me by their ads on Red Sox broadcasts during my childhood and antique signs collected by my parents, had assumed the naming rights for the arena.
And then, the next day, came perhaps my favorite tweet of all time, from the Lightning’s official Twitter feed: “AM-a-lee. Rhymes with family.”
My happiness was complete. If only I lived in Tampa.
So, with the blessing of my editor, I traveled to Florida to bask in the pleasure of a name pronounced correctly. I expected everyone to have it down. It had been a month since the name change, ample time for those inside and outside the arena to get it right.
The Lightning, after all, will play in a building that will say my name in more than 500 places, from end caps on rows of seats to trash cans to chefs’ whites to letters almost as tall as me on the outside faces. (I mean, who doesn’t want their name on a trash can?)
And on the ice.
Wait a second. They were skating over my name on the ice. Isn’t there some rule against this?
So, yes, I expected those who worked inside the arena to have the name down. The Tampa Bay Times Forum was now Amalie Arena and, by jove, they should know how to pronounce it.
“Am-a-lye?” guessed goaltender Ben Bishop.
“Am-ay-lee?” guessed defenseman Radko Gudas.
“Ah-mah-lee?” guessed defenseman Mark Barberio.
I had spent the morning in the Port of Tampa visiting the offices of the Amalie Oil Company, a company that gets me. The one difference? They chose the name. After the Barkett family, owners of Petroleum Packers, bought Amalie Oil in 1998, they renamed the entire company after their acquisition the next year.
(Amalie Oil, started in 1903, had been named after the grandmother of the founders, a pair of French-Jewish immigrants with the last name of Sonneborn. A nice tribute. I’ll make sure my grandchildren do the same.)
So, really, it’s their own fault that the first page of their press materials has a giant “Am-a-lee” under their logo.
“It’s very important to us, at least, that we get the name right,” said president Harry Barkett, who has met just one other Amalie in his life. She was Swedish.
“Being involved with the hockey team now, I mean talking about names,” Barkett added. “Wow. I mean, some of these names I can’t even begin to pronounce them.”
So there, Radko Gudas.
Important note: The company almost changed it. Upon the purchase of the Wolf’s Head brand of motor oil in 2006, there were some misguided people in the company who wondered if that would be a better — more pronounceable — name for them. They thought it was “sexier.”
But, as Barkett said, “I’m still partial to Amalie.”
Me too, Harry. Me too.
. . .
So, yes, now I see hope. There is a light, and it’s not just the blue and red ones shining off the arena that bears my name. As I made my way around the waterfront by the arena, I asked random people about its name, about its pronunciation, about where it came from and why.
Some knew. More didn’t.
Toward the end of my wanderings, one who hadn’t, Andrew Massaro, passed by me again on a bicycle. “Bye, Am-uh-lee,” he called, the sweet sound of a phonetically perfect pronunciation escaping from his lips. “Enjoy your time in Tampa.”
I let out a breath. It’s happening.