We Need New Names

We Need New Names Summary and Analysis of Real Change, How They Appeared, We Need New Names, and Shhhh


Real Change

The atmosphere of Paradise changes as the adults prepare to vote in an election. The adults smile more and talk a lot about change and democracy; the women giggle at the men, trying to look beautiful. The children discuss what happens when you vote while putting up posters that say “Change, Real Change” (61) on the door of every shack, as they have been assigned by other children named Bornfree and Messenger. They talk about what it means to vote and Bastard talks about how he will be president of the country someday. They sing the national anthem and Godknows pretends to act like the NGO man, taking pictures of the other children with a brick.

In bed, Darling describes her old life, saying that her family “had a home and everything and we were happy” (64). She again describes their current shack, focusing on the bed and saying that even though she has her eyes closed to pretend to be sleeping, she can tell that her mother is sitting there. There is a soft knock on the door, five times, and a man comes in. Her mother and the man whisper and laugh and then start to have sex.

Darling counts in her head and tries to get to sleep, knowing that he will be gone in the morning. She thinks that sometimes she does not sleep at all, especially because she is scared of a dream she often has where bulldozers and police come. In the dream, which seems like a memory made more vivid through emotion, the adults yell at the men in bulldozers and at the police but their houses are all demolished and they are left in rubble, choking on dust and yelling about the liberation war. One woman comes running in high heels because she has been in town while this all has happened and starts to yell that her baby son was in her house; the child is carried out of the rubble, dead, and she throws herself on the ground and rolls around ripping her clothing until she is wrapped in a blanket and taken away. Later, foreign news channels come to take pictures and videos. Still awake in bed, Darling hears her mother’s man snoring and the sound of MotherLove singing sweetly down the street to tell people her “shebeen” (70) is open for people to come drink.

On the day the adults all leave Paradise to vote, the children are all left behind. In the confusion and solemnity of the day, the children do not play or raid the adults’ houses, but instead sit quietly under a tree together all morning and afternoon. At one point it begins to rain, but they stay outside, becoming wet and hungry and tired. Finally, the adults come back. They are joyful, with ink-stained fingers from voting by fingerprint. That night, everyone has a party in MotherLove’s shack, where MotherLove makes “brew” (72) all day and gives it to people at night. MotherLove starts to sing a prayer and the adults dance with the children, telling them to “get ready for a new country, no more of this Paradise anymore” (73).

How They Appeared

Darling goes back to her memory again, narrating how her family and all the others whose houses had been demolished came to Paradise. She says that they did not “come to Paradise” (75), which would imply choice, but rather appeared in bits and then in “swarms” (75) and “waves” (75). They portioned out land by drawing in the dirt with sticks and they brought materials to build shacks: pieces of tin, cardboard, and plastic. Some fought over what had not been brought and some stayed entirely quiet. When these people regained their voices, they said that the white men who made them paupers before independence were not as bad as the black men doing this to them now. Children also arrived, starting out confused but soon knowing not to ask questions. MotherLove arrived with big barrels to make liquor during the day, which the reader has just seen put to use in the last chapter. The chapter ends by noting that the men tried to appear strong in public and even in front of their families, but the women understood that the men were “falling apart” (79) and had to show the real strength.

We Need New Names

One day, the children decide they need to “get rid of Chipo’s stomach once and for all” (80). The girls, Darling and Sbho, decide that the boys shouldn’t go, and they invite another girl named Forgiveness to go with them. Sbho lays a “ntsaro” (81) and Chipo lies on it. The girls don’t know exactly what they are supposed to do, so Darling collects a lot of rocks while Forgiveness undoes a rusty coat hanger. Sbho lays out a metal cup, a leather belt, and a “purple round thing” (82). They decide that Darling should pee in the cup. She does so and then Sbho sprinkles dirt in it and Chipo drinks it. They pull up Chipo’s shirt and poke at her stomach. They give themselves the names of doctors from a TV show and Sbho and Darling keep massaging Chipo’s stomach while Forgiveness flattens out the coat hanger completely. Finally, Forgiveness tries to get Chipo to take off her pants, but she doesn’t want to. Forgiveness explains that to get rid of a stomach you have to put the coat hanger through a woman’s “thing” (87) and all the way up inside. Chipo asks if it will hurt and Forgiveness says she doesn’t know.

While the girls fight over whether they should do this, MotherLove appears. The girls are afraid that she will be angry or take them back to their mothers to be hit, but when MotherLove realizes what has been going on she is just sad. MotherLove hugs Chipo and starts to cry, and then Chipo starts to cry. A “purple lucky butterfly” (90) lands on Chipo and then flies away, and Sbho, Darling, and Forgiveness run after it yelling for luck.


Suddenly, Darling’s father comes home. He is incredibly sick: “unable to move, unable to talk properly, unable to anything, vomiting and vomiting, Jesus, just vomiting and defecating on himself, and it smelling like something dead in there” (91). He lays in Mother’s bed and when Darling first sees him, she is so surprised and scared that she runs out of the shack screaming, causing her mother to say “Shhhh” (92). Darling’s father calls her “my boy” (92) and her mother makes her hold his hand.

Darling remembers when her father decided to go to South Africa, against her mother’s wishes. He was getting angrier and angrier back then, and on a certain day he told Darling’s mother that everyone else was leaving and that they never should have come to Paradise to begin with. Mother of Bones was also there and talked about God, which Father laughed meanly at. Mother argued that their whole family was there and then told Darling rudely to stop listening and go play with her friends. Soon, Father left for South Africa and didn’t send back any of the things he had promised.

Again, in the present, Mother tells Darling to “Shhhh” (95) - not to tell anyone that her father has returned. It is now Darling’s job to take care of her father when Mother and Mother of Bones are not there, so she cannot go out and play with her friends. They come to the shack, but she tells them she is tired and then that she is sick. Finally, one day, Bastard tells her that she’s lying. They stand in silence a while and then they all hear Darling’s father starting to cough from inside the shack. Darling runs into the shack and slams the door. Her friends try to get her to open the door but eventually leave her alone. Eventually he stops coughing, but Darling keeps sitting there thinking, “Die. Die now so I can go play with my friends” (98).

Prophet Revelations Bitchington Mborro comes to pray for Father. He lights four colored candles, lays out a white cloth, and then starts to pray loudly. Because it takes so long, Darling counts to a hundred and then starts to think about prayer. Finally, Prophet Revelations Bitchington Mborro finishes and says that God showed him that the spirit of Darling’s grandfather has left her and gone into Father. He says that they will need to sacrifice two goats on the mountain and pay him five hundred U.S. dollars. He also says that Mother is possessed by three demons, causing her to be unhappy and dangerous.

Since they cannot afford this sacrifice or payment, Mother of Bones begins to fast and pray on the mountain and Mother returns to the border to sell things. Darling’s friends come back to her and tell her that they know her Father is in the shack and that he has “the Sickness” (102), AIDS. They ask to come inside and she takes them in there. They kneel around the bed and everyone is very quiet, looking at Father’s bony body. Bastard takes Father’s hand and speaks to him kindly and Father tries to speak back but cannot. They talk about Father’s death right in front of him, and Darling says that he is going to heaven. Godknows starts to sing a song and then they all join in, holding Father’s hand and touching him like he is “a beautiful plaything we have just rescued from a rubbish bin in Budapest” (105). Father looks back at them with “a strange light in his sunken eyes” (105).


Politics is constantly hinted at in We Need New Names, all through Darling's childish lens. When she and her friends are younger and living in Paradise, they help hang up political posters that promise change and watch as the adults leave to cast their votes in an election and return proud and hopeful, dancing and singing long into the night. Furthermore, the children love to play imaginative political games having to do with global domination and the worldwide search for Osama bin Laden. These hints at politics through Darling's eyes and the children's games and discussions means that the focus of the book stays on emotions and relationships, the ways that politics affected real people in Zimbabwe.

In this section appears the first of three chapters that take on a different narrative style than the rest of the book. In "How They Appeared," the reader must grapple with whether Darling is narrating or something else is happening, as the vocabulary changes slightly, the point of view turns from a clearly conversational first-person style to third-person omniscient style, and none of the characters in the story thus far are referred to specifically. Bulawayo uses these passages in the story at key points of transformation for Zimbabwe and Darling to show the reader how her specific story functions as a part of the broader narrative of Zimbabwe's history.

It is important to discuss the girls' attempt to help Chipo get rid of her stomach, not only because it is one of the most gripping, strange, and emotional chapters of the book, but also because the line "we need new names" (84) is spoken. Though the children don't really know what they need to do in order to perform an abortion, taking on the names of doctors from the TV show ER helps them to feel that they have the maturity and responsibility necessary for the act. Furthermore, they tell Chipo that patients do not have names, underscoring Chipo's vulnerability and the way her identity has been taken from her through this pregnancy.

At the end of this same chapter, a "purple lucky butterfly" lands on Chipo and then flies away. The reader must wonder what this moment is supposed to foreshadow. Reading it in the context of the book, Chipo is one of the only friends who stays in Paradise, raising her daughter and staying close to Zimbabwe's political and economic strife while Darling is allowed to view it with sympathy from afar. This does not seem particularly lucky, but perhaps this symbol indicates that "luckiness" itself must be interrogated. In any case, there is a definite parallel when Darling, Sbho, and Forgiveness leave Chipo behind with MotherLove when the butterfly flies away, as they chase after the small creature while "screaming out for luck" (90).

Bulawayo's portrayal of AIDS through Darling watching and listening to her father die in the chapter "Shhhh" is a vivid and harrowing image. She focuses on Darling's father's lack of control and on the sound that he makes, which outs Darling's lies to her friends and makes her wish her father was dead. Bulawayo particularly relies on repetition to make her point, for example writing, "I just stand there, sweating and listening to the cough pounding the walls, pounding and pounding and pounding... he keeps pounding and pounding and pounding until I just turn around and slam the door shut" (97). By dwelling on the effects of the disease on one man, the author creates an unforgettable image of human suffering that spreads to those around him.