A Temporary Name, A Temporary Home
Dinaw Mengestu carries out the significance of the title, All Our Names, throughout the novel. One way in which he does this is through his characterizations of “Langston” or “Isaac”, Helen, and Isaac, and by how many names they have. “Langston” or “Professor” or “Isaac”, for instance is called many names throughout the novel which reflects his characteristic of being a wanderer and having no place to really call home. Helen has had the same name since birth and has also lived in the same small town of Laurel her entire life. Isaac, although we never learn of his birth name, asks to be called “Isaac” throughout the novel and feels at home in Kampala.
“Isaac”, or “Langston”, definitely has the most names in the story by far. He mentions that at birth he was given thirteen names due to tradition, yet gives them all up when he moves to the capital for the name “Langston”. Isaac also decides to give him the names, “Professor” and “Ali” before finally giving him the name, “Isaac Mabiro”, a combination between Isaac’s name and Joseph’s name. The instability of his name correlates with the fact that he feels there is no place for him and is always being directed what to do by Isaac or Helen. “Langston” lives in many different places during the novel but never feels any attachment to them. When he is evicted from his apartment after being beaten, he does not feel sad about it. As Helen points out, during his time in the United States, he does not make himself at home in his own apartment. She describes his apartment as having no life, stating that there were only eggs and butter in the refrigerator. The temporariness of “Langston” or “Issac’s” name represents the lack of stability in his life.
In contrast to “Langston”, Helen and Isaac both keep the same name throughout the novel and live generally stable lives. Helen has lived in the same town since birth and Isaac knows that Kampala is the place he is meant to live. Unlike, “Langston” who is generally unsure of himself in everything he does, Isaac always knows exactly what he is going to say or do and Helen holds a job that she goes to daily, thus she lives a predictable life. Helen and Isaac, in addition to “Langston”, help carry out the significance of the theme of names throughout the novel.