NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names – shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and winner
of the Etisalat Prize for Literature in 2013 – is a novel in which the leitmotif of (re)naming
associates the trope of migration to the (dis)location and translation of subjectivities. Based
on the premise that the movement of subjects from one social context to another is
analogous to the translation of text from one language to another, this paper proposes a
transitional mode of subjectification. However, I argue against reading Darling’s journey
from Zimbabwean shanty dweller to illegal immigrant in America as a linear progression
from an original (located) to a translated (dislocated) subjectivity. I further argue that the
novel goes beyond the idea of ‘transparent translation’ – a visible layering of a translated
subjectivity over a discrete original subjectivity – by privileging their inter-permeability.
Semantic and cognitive dissonance are read as textual markers of the psychic (dis)location
experienced by displaced subjects. This analysis of Darling’s childhood and adolescent
subjectivities leads me to conclude that the novel’s leitmotif of (re)naming as a call for a
new hermeneutic code through which translational subjectivities can be understood.