The Naming of Names


Over 100,000 Tamil civilians were killed during the Sri Lankan civil war, their deaths often dismissed as collateral damage. What happens to names once the person who wore them dies? When there is no one left alive who remembers the laughter they once carried. In the ordinary course of a life every syllable of a name would be fully used up: a full life led. The violence of war doesn’t merely decimate the physical body: it shocks into silence names, lineages and history. This book is a tender exhumation of the lyricism of Tamil names: of flowers, the moon and stars; of beauty, music and grace.

Expanding upon the work in her powerful and moving 2021 pamphlet From a Borrowed Land, Shash Trevett’s The Naming of Names bears witness to the Tamil experience during the Sri Lankan civil war through poetry that spans a broad range of responses to this violent and tragic history.

Published August 2024

My heart was in my mouth and the hair raised on my head while reading Shash Trevett’s The Naming of Names. Poetic language’s rare and obvious beauties appear in abundance, blue lotus flowering; but this was not the only reason why. The great lists of names in this book are part of its astounding poetic and globally significant achievement. Sometimes they monumentalise the page almost concretely, like inscriptions on a European war memorial or an Indian Ashoka pillar. Sometimes they rise like the smoke of incense at a holy rite, redolent of wisdom and praise; sometimes like the compound odour of war overlaying the perfumes of nature in Sri Lanka. Like many ‘English-language’ readers, I too partake in cultures where children are named partly according to the names’ meaning. Thus, listed names, like touch-sensitive lighting, illuminate desired futures, storied pasts. Interleaving the memorialisations with more traditionally poetic texts, Trevett has the gift to lead us gently through the hope seeded in each name, leading us also into the millennia-old arts of Tamil grammar and lyric. We are both given permission to stand beside the weeping and still-beautiful lagoon of slaughter, and rightly encouraged to reflect on how we have been bystanders. We are unmoored by the reminder that naming, apparently made to be set in stone, always is also, bodily, fluid. All the effort is the author’s. All the awe is ours. – Anthony Vahni Capildeo

What Writers and Critics Think

  • 'Outstanding. Shash Trevett writes with such clarity, care and grace. A necessary act of witness and reclamation: I urge you to read it'

    Clare Pollard


Shash Trevett is a poet and a translator of Tamil poetry into English. Her poetry has appeared in journals and anthologies (including POETRY, Poetry London, Modern Poetry in Translation, Ambit  and The North), she has read widely across the U.K and internationally and is a winner of a Northern Writers’ Award. Her pamphlet From a Borrowed Land was published in May 2021 by Smith|Doorstop. Out of Sri Lanka: Tamil, Sinhala and English Poetry from Sri Lanka and its Diasporas (Bloodaxe 2023, Penguin India 2023) which she co-edited with Vidyan Ravinthiran and Seni Seneviratne, was a Poetry Book Society Special Recommendation and one of the Times Literary Supplement’s Books of the Year for 2023. Shash has collaborated with artists and musicians and has been a mentor for New Writing North and the National Centre for Writing. She is a member of the Kinara Poetry Collective, a Ledbury Critic and a Board Member of Modern Poetry in Translation. The Naming of Names (Smith|Doorstop, 2024) is her first full collection.

Additional information

Dimensions 21 × 13.8 × 0.6 cm

Book, eBook (ePub)


9781914914805, 9781914914812



Publication Year

August 2024