This short speculative fiction story originally appeared on the Canadian website, Ascent Aspirations way back in 2007.
Miguel and Stephanie looked down at their infant child. A girl, a healthy baby girl. They looked at each other as if to say, We did it. Because, dammit, they had done it. Their child was the result of six years of fertility treatments, false alarms, and miscarriages.
“Look at them,” Dr. Livinson remarked to one of his nurses. “They think they've been blessed with a miracle. Kids are more like tragic accidents, if you ask me.”
The parents could not hear him, as he stood behind a soundproof glass window.
"I didn't ask you," the nurse said icily.
Dr. Livinson ignored her. He rolled his head and heard the delicate bones in his neck creak. He let out a sigh and entered the nursery. Amidst a sea of incubating children, Dr. Livinson met Stephanie and Miguel, the proud new parents at the bedside of a newborn baby girl.
“My, that may be one of the most beautiful little girls we’ve had in here,” he said. “What a little angel!”
The kids all looked the same to him, but common courtesy dictated a lack of impartiality.
“Thank you,” the father said, oblivious to the doctor’s sarcasm. “We worked hard on him.” He winked at his wife.
She giggled like a schoolgirl; vomit pressed upward in the doctor’s chest cavity. Just wait until you haven’t slept for six months. You’ll never feel like doing it again, Dr. Livinson thought.
The cry of a lonely child shattered the silence. Stephanie looked at her husband in horror, with a look that said, That could have been our child—crying! Their daughter, however, was asleep in her incubator.
“Has our application been approved yet?” Stephanie asked the doctor.
“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to see you. There was an error on the original forms that you filled out,” Dr. Livinson raised a clipboard to his chest and shuffled a batch of papers like cards, hypnotizing the couple. “A clerical error…but…Ah-hah! Here it is, boys and girls.” He handed the page handed over to Miguel, who glanced it over, turned it over, and turned it over again.
And glanced it over, and glanced it over again.
Two more turns.
One more glance.
“Are you serious?” Miguel asked.
“Unfortunately, your first choice of name was not available. We were able to offer some variations on the theme, so to speak."
“’Samantha-Seventy-Five?’” Miguel said. “What kind of sick joke is this?”
“That’s just one suggestion. I’m sure it’s not the best, but it has a nice ring to it.”
The parents looked over the list of suggestions: “Samantha_055,” “Sammantha08, “Sammy145.” At the bottom of the form, printed in optimistic capital letters, sat the following advertisement: “FOR MORE NAMES, PLEASE VISIT OUR WEBSITE 24 HOURS A DAY, AT...”
“Why can’t we have Samantha? I don’t see what’s so wrong with that that was Steph’s grandmother’s name,” Miguel said.
“What you’ve got to realize is this is really about individuality. ’Samantha-Seventy-Five’ is far more unique than ‘Samantha,’” the doctor said.
Stephanie was exasperated, showing the strain of eighteen hours of childbirth. “But what about our last name? Doesn’t that count for something, like set it apart from the rest?”
Everyone thinks they’re unique and special, and wants to think that they’re the only Samantha Schweenheimer out there, the doctor thought. When you’re dealing with just twenty-six characters, even a recombinatory language can feel the stress of a billion native speakers.
The doctor looked at the ground and held his tongue. Stephanie collapsed onto her daughter’s incubator in tears. Miguel tried to put his hand on her shoulder to raise her, but was thrown off. Dr. Livinson nodded at him, and bent down to speak with Stephanie in the soothing tone of a television doctor or hostage negotiator.
“Stephanie...” He put her left hand in his palms. “Stephanie, I know what you’re feeling.”
He paused to see if she would explode on him, but she didn’t.
“I have a son, too, and my first choice wasn’t available, either. But Richard-Sixteen-Eighty-One loves his name. It’s an identity that no one else out there has, something that sets him apart in school—and, more importantly, on the Internet. And when he goes on to college one day, it’s going to distinguish him from Richard-Twenty- Five Livinson or Richard-Underscore-Eleven Livinson. You have to be strong. Be creative. ‘Samantha’ would never be phonetically and intellectually recognized in any legitimate court of law as your daughter’s. You need to think about what she would want.”
Stephanie wiped the tears from her face with the sleeve of her hospital gown. Dr. Livinson helped her to her feet. He let her go, and she retreated into the arms of her husband.
Miguel whispered something into her ear. Sweet nothings. A declaration of love, possibly. At the sound of his words, her eyes lit up with hope. She nodded to her husband enthusiastically.
“I think we’ve made a decision, doctor,” Miguel said.
“I’m glad to hear that. Will you be going with ‘Samantha-Seventy- Five’ today? Or can I mark you down for ‘Samantha-Underbar-Zero-One?’”
“I think we’ll go with something of our own, actually,” Stephanie said. “How does ‘Samantha-One-Three-Hyphen-Seven’ sound?”
The doctor was awestruck by the beauty of the name. Samantha13-7. If he were ever to be blessed with a daughter, he was sure it would have been in his top ten for sure. It nearly brought a tear to Dr. Livinson’s eye, and moved him to break down the barrier between health care provider and patient and embrace the Schweenheimers in an uncharacteristic bearhug.
It was original.
It was catchy.
It was already taken.