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The Use of Names in Maps by Nuruddin Farah

One of the most significant features that can be found in Maps is Nuruddin Farah’s use of names. David Lodge states that names are given to humans with “semantic intent”. This means that every name has a purpose, or more importantly significance to the character it is given to. Lodge states conjuring up a name is always the most important part of creating a character. The name is the novelist’s method of summing up the character’s strengths, weaknesses and multiple other considerations in one simple condensed title. The connotation of the name is rarely explained by the author, its meaning is usually transferred subliminally and allows for the reader to develop their own ideas on the meaning independently.

Lodge mentions, from his personal experiences, that he searches for names that are both natural but are also allegorically appropriate. He also states that a name will never be arbitrary, if a name does come a across as neutral (or not blatantly symbolic) it is only to signify the ordinariness of the character. A character’s name can also be ironic if the author chooses to do so. Lodge also speaks of how comical and satirical writers have the power to give their characters whimsical names; this name can either be inventive or “blatantly allegorical”. This, however, is not seen in the Maps considering that is a realistic novel.

Readers often downplay the significance of names in literature however in Maps the name of a character or place demonstrates its significance. First and foremost, the main character of the novel is Askar. The name “Askar”, although it seems irrelevant at first, actually defines who Askar is. Askar is a word of Arabic origin and means fighter or more specifically soldier. This describes who Askar is because he experiences his fair share of hardships, one of which is his struggle with identity. Although he has difficulties discovering who he is, he is a natural-born fighter, and this is shown in his demeanor. Askar, unlike the other children is very independent. This could be a defense mechanism that Askar uses in order to cope with not knowing his real parents. The name also foreshadows how Askar becomes a soldier in the Somali Liberation Front.

Another example in Maps of the significance of names in creating a character is Misra. “Misra” is a word of Hindu origin and can be defined as mixed. Misra is mixed in the fact that she is an Ethiopian woman who lives in Somalia. She’s attempting to become Somali, but in the process she mixes both her Ethiopian culture that she was born with as well as the culture she is attempting to adapt to. This can be seen in the way that Misra chooses to raise Askar. She raises him with both Ethiopian and Somali cultures, and in a way she her self is mixed and mixes Askar’s ethnicity as well. These are two of the more significant examples of how a name can play significant role in not only Maps but in all of literature.

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