Needing To Be Rescued From One’s Name

One line that has stuck with me throughout reading Dinaw Mengestu’s All Our Names is: “Rescue – that is the true heart behind romance and fairy tale; the spontaneous love that frees us from the tower, hospital bed, or broken world is always only the means to that end” (109). And the reason as to why this line stuck with me actually has to do with our discussion about names. We touched upon the fact that names are not really used and are not really important, but I believe that it is. In the beginning of the book, what Langston says Isaac left with him was not just his character, who he was as a person, but his name; Langston himself carried various nicknames like “Professor” and “Ali” which could go to showing how multifaceted he is, who exactly he is; and while Isaac is just a name as Helen points out, it is still what she knows him by.

How does the line that stuck with me relate to this topic of names? Well, one’s name serves as a great identifier. While a name is not what makes everything real or great, having a name to carry is important to many of us. I know it is to me. And while I wholeheartedly believe in keeping my last name when I get married, Langston just throws his birth name away and is dubbed something else. But the fact is he made this transition into the capital that seemed rushed, chaotic, and change seemed like a farce; the hopes that were there for the country of post-colonial independence served as a disappointment. Langston rescued himself from that by taking on a new name. I believe that the quote is stating that “rescue” is this sort of freedom, freedom from realities and to be a dreamer and perhaps have dreams become realities. And from the beginning I feel that Langston was looking for a new identity, a new purpose, which was sort of this fairy tale in his mind that he could not make a complete reality being an outsider, but could possibly work towards. Similarly, Helen is also trying to really find herself through the definitions of her job, her relationships, and her potential future.

In All Our Names, names itself are also important not only because they serve as an identifier, but because of their ties to family, to where someone has grown up, to what someone’s life has been. And through changing a name or questioning it, one could say that it rescues one from the worries that this name is all he or she has and this life is all he or she has rather than: “I am more than just my name…I will make my name mean more.”

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Posted on September 25, 2014, in All Our Names and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I agree with your analysis on the important of names. This book struck me as little odd initially because of the names used. For a novel partially set in Africa, I was confused about the use of English names at first. As an African myself, I know that parents are very deliberate about the names they give their children. I found it very odd that Langston was able to just give up all the names his parents had given him and was comfortable answering to just nicknames. I know the meaning of my names and it would be very difficult for me to just abandon my name for something else.
    Then I began to realize that names tie you down. Langston and Isaac where living a life where in order to survive they couldn’t be tied down or draw too much attention to themselves. A perfect example of this is when he went to the small village towards the end of this novel. When he went to the village, he told the people his real name. But since he wasn’t from Uganda, they couldn’t pronounce it so they just changed it and began to call him Daniel. This part of the novel was key in understanding why the author doesn’t place too much emphasis on names. When you are staying in a place that isn’t your home or a place you don’t ‘belong’ to, the people around you don’t care too much about your name.

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