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.
In the second half of Maps names play an extremely significant role not only from the authors perspective but to the characters in the novel as well. The case of Misra demonstrates how important names are to Askar. In the first part of the novel, Misra was defined as the “cosmos” in the eyes of Askar. To Askar, her name defined their relationship. She nurtured him and offered him knowledge and the nurturing any mother would give to their child. Askar’s relationship with Misra was dependent on this definition he came to know so well. On page 185 Askar states, “Names mean something.” This reinforces that Askar believes that names are not simply arbitrary titles that are slung around. He believes that names are interconnected with identity.
The rumors surrounding Misra’s loyalty seemed to upset everyone but Askar. It was not until Askar’s discovery that Misra was not her true name he became visibly upset. “To me, as a child, she was the cosmos.” This made him feel betrayed, and made him believe that Misra was not loyal. A name is attached to identity, and her eagerness to change something of utmost significance in regards to identity shows her lack of loyalty to Ethiopia, Somalia and even to Askar. This idea relates to Lodge’s idea that once a character has been given a name it the two items become inseparable. Askar, being the narrator of his own life, experiences the shock of having her identity changed first hand. His ability to forgive Misra and to be at peace with the situation shows that identity can transcend these labels. The significance of names in Farah’s novel is that names can be considered the maps of identity. Although there are arbitrary lines they do not ultimately overpower the significance of identity.