All Our Names: What Names?
From the title of this novel, All Our Names, we can assume that there will be the theme of names throughout the story. However, after reading it we can confirm names are in fact a theme, yet not in the sense that we maybe first assumed. As we discussed in class, the names of everyone/thing throughout the story are left ambiguous. This applies to the main characters, some locations, and some minor characters as well. Examples of this include; Helen, whose father can’t remember why he chose that name for her, Isaac, who has no last name, and no real identity written on paper, Langston, which we know is not his real name, The President, who is never referred to by name, same as The Capital.
In addition, the names that are present, are extremely ‘un-African’. For example; Hope, Patience, Langston, Isaac, Helen, David, Dickens. This is an interesting tactic on the authors part, especially for an ‘African’ novel, in which names typically hold a high level of importance (mirroring their level of importance in the real world). My question is, why does Mengestu choose to have ambiguous and ‘un-African’ names? What purpose does this serve? Is it so the readers can better apply their own impressions of the characters? Maybe it’s because he wants the book to apply more to the America/ the mid-west, than to Africa? Or maybe it is supposed to symbolize a change of identity…two possible supporting examples of this are, when Isaac comes to the midwest and is assigned the name Dickens (symbolizing his switch from Uganda to America), and when Langston first comes to the capital and says that he is leaving everything from before behind him, including his family names, and then when he first meets Isaac, he is assigned the name Langston (symbolizing his switch from being with his family in his village to being mostly on his own in the capital). With that last option, I would like to end with a quote I find ties together the theme of names in this novel…
“…Isaac was their legacy to him, and when his revolutionary dreams came to an end, and he had to choose between leaving and staying, that name became his last an most precious gift to me.”