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The Geography Of A Name, With Thomas Dai

The Namedropping podcast logo, a coffee cup with a scratched-out name
Art by Tara Jacoby

Sometimes the story behind a name appears simple: His mother's doctor's second son happened to be named Thomas. The writer Thomas Dai could have ended his investigation there, but there was more to it. His name encoded references to both the American city he grew up in and the Chinese city his mother grew up in. Thomas dug into the many layers of his name in a 2016 essay called "Take My Name And Say It Slow," and on this week's episode of Namedropping, he takes us through that process of self-discovery, and the "hokey air of destiny" that followed.

Thomas also breaks down an infamous literary incident where a white poet named Michael Derrick Hudson successfully submitted a poem under the pen name "Yi-Fen Chou," which got us talking about how deeply a byline can shape how a piece of writing is read. We discuss how a childhood best friend gave Thomas a nickname full of "loving racism," how he introduces himself in his travels around the world, and how biologists think about naming.

A transcript for the episode can be found here.

If you've never listened to the pod before, check out our season opener with comedian and mathematician Sridhar Ramesh.

Subscribe to Namedropping on AppleSpotify, or wherever else you listen to podcasts. Here’s our RSS feed. You can email us at, or follow us on Instagram. We hope you're enjoying the new season.

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