In the movie, Yesterday mentioned that her father came up with her name, Yesterday.
When Yesterday is at the medical clinic, female doctor shows interest in the name Yesterday. The doctor said she have seen people named today or tomorrow but she never heard of the name yesterday. Yesterday’s father named her Yesterday because Yesterday was better than today.
This tuns out true when Yesterday finds out that she has HIV. Yesterday is shocked and fear the death but then she quickly decides to stay strong for her daughter beauty. Yesterday was happier in the past days when she did not know she had AIDS. However, Yesterday when she did not know the truth, could have been more happier for her. However, she stays strong and try to make better tomorrow. For example, she tells the teacher that she will have to be strong at least until the day beauty goes to school.
The idea of happier past is also shown when Yesterday is reminiscing happy memories that she had with her husband. In the old days, Yesterday’s husband used to give her gifts and was affectionate towards her. The violence that her husband showed to Yesterday probably made her think that it could have been better if she did not come to the city to tell her husband about AIDS, because then, at least Yesterday would not have been hurt, both physically and emotionally. The past times when she did not know her husband’s illness and when she wasn’t beaten by her husband could have been the better “yesterday” that Yesterday’s father meant by making that name.
However, this idea of better past, better yesterday seems cowardice. It seems like one is trying to avoid challenges and hardships that one should go through as part of one’s life. This idea is similar to being in a denial of things that will come today and in the future. Yesterday says that her name is Yesterday because yesterday was better in life. However, Yesterday is facing all the challenges that today or tomorrow is bringing to her. She does not opt out, but rather fight back her obstacles. She takes medicine and fights her illness with desire to see beauty going to school. Also, when people in the town start a rumor about her husband, she builds the hospital and take care of him. Yesterday is trying to find the best solution possible, even in such a difficult situations. Yesterday’s name seems to symbolize her eager to fight, even the sufferings of today, rather than staying in innocent yesterday.
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.”