Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Rose By Any Other Name

Everyone's name carries a special meaning for them. It is your very identity, a linguistic or written representation of who you are - your body may change, your surroundings may change, but your name will always be yours. To take one's name away, then, is to shake the foundation upon which they have built their self-image. Both names and changes of names are even more significant in the society about which Figiel writes - each name carries a literal meaning, and each character, whether intentionally or unwittingly, embodies that meaning. Malu is "protection,"  Tuto'atasi "to stand alone," Lalolagi, "the world." Though Lalolagi's name was changed at a young age, she seems to be unable to shake her original name, Tu. She is fiercely independent, both in negative and positive aspects, though the negative ones are, albeit, but more prominent. Malu, who is called "chicken-shit girl," "dog-girl," and a variety of other demeaning names nevertheless remains a source of shelter and protection - for her friend Ina, for her oft-abusive grandmother, and even for her employer, Mrs. Winterson. While Lalolagi's name change and Malu's unkind nicknames alter their perspectives, they carry with them the power which their original names have given them - Lalolagi will remember forever the  story of why her name was changed and Malu, despite her names' negative connotations, will not forget the mother who is no longer with her because of them. 

Alofa, on the other hand, is not only robbed of her name, but slowly robbed of her Samoan identity. When Fue, or "Viv," calls her Donna, it is without explanation. She offhandedly says on the phone, as if grasping the first Anglicized name that popped into her head. The name change is traumatizing for Alofa simply because it alters her identity and her connection to home, but also because of its arbitrariness. It would seem that the ultimate insult to a Samoan would be to replace their name with one not from their country, but it is even worse that she is giving a name without meaning, without significance. The change, it seems, is indicative of her feelings of insignificance in her new home of Giu Sila, and it is clear that it shakes her to her core - when she writes a note to her friends in Samoa, unlike the others she has penned, she leaves it unsigned.

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