By Sanjana Kucheria and Rebecca Nussbaum
Justin “Chestnut” Berman ’13
Justin Berman’s ’13 name changed on his first day of cross country practice. When coach and Olympic gold medalist Johnny Gray asked his name, he replied, “Justin.” Unable to hear the young, shy runner, Gray thought he said “Chestnut.” The nickname became a joke among the runners, and while it began with a few teammates referring to Berman as Chestnut, it quickly spread throughout the school.
It’s gotten to the point where he introduces himself as “Chestnut” to other students.
“I bet a lot of people don’t even know my name is Justin,” he said. “I’ve even had to make it my middle name on Facebook so that when people search ‘Chestnut’ they find me.”
“It’s special though because it was given to me during my most meaningful activity I partake in at Harvard-Westlake,” Berman said. “Over my three years at Harvard-Westlake, the cross country team has become a second family to me, and it’s thanks to the team that I got this nickname.”
Alec “Choma” Zwaneveld ’12
Alec Zwaneveld’s ’12 first name is essentially unknown on campus, he said. Instead, he is “Choma.” The nickname was created by his old water polo coach, Richard Corso, during a summer camp six years ago.
Zwaneveld’s mom bought him a swimsuit that had red, white and blue stripes zigzagging up and down the back. Unknowingly, Zwaneveld was wearing the Russian national team swim suit. The captain of the Russian team was Revaz Chomakhidze. Corso decided to call Zwaneveld “Chomakhidze” for the remainder of the camp, which was shortened to “Choma.”
Six years later, the nickname has stuck, as waterpolo players and students know him as “Choma.”
“I like to think that the person I am in the water is known as Choma, but when I’m out of it, I’m Alec,” Zwaneveld said. “I really don’t care what anybody decides to call me, because I’m both people at once. It’s unique, some would say weird, and I like that.”
Alex “Randy” Rand-Lewis ’12
Randy, Randelion, ARL and CARL.Alex Rand-Lewis’ ’12 name has inspired a wide variety of nicknames, “I have a large number of nicknames, so there really isn’t any single nickname I hear consistently,” Rand-Lewis said.
His most popular nickname, Randy, was coined by the baseball team because players call each other by their last names.
“Rand-Lewis is a mouthful,” he said. “Calling me Randy made it easier to get my attention quickly.”
Another nickname is Nelson Randela, given to Rand-Lewis by his carpool driver, Connor Dillman ’11, during his sophomore year. Dillman had been reading about Nelson Mandela and mashed the two names, Nelson Mandela and Alex Rand-Lewis, together.
ARL is yet another of Rand-Lewis’ nicknames. Initially given to him by his ninth grade geometry teacher, Dan Reeves, ARL is now used predominantly by the yearbook staff.
“My nicknames are special to me because they make me feel unique” Rand-Lewis said. “It makes me feel like I stand out.”
Larry “Axe” Axelrod
Science Department Chair Larry Axelrod’s nickname has stuck with him for decades. He began going by Axe in high school because he never liked his first name much, he said.
Now most of his close friends call him Axe, and that’s how he refers to himself, too.
“I’m not sure where students necessarily picked it up,” he said. “Although sometimes, I may sign emails ‘Axe’ or sometimes I’ll say, ‘Oh, you can call me Mr. Axe if [Axelrod] is too long,’ and then that gets cut off.”
Typically students begin the school year calling him Mr. Axelrod and adopt his shortened nickname once they get wind of it.
“When kids first come into class, most don’t know me, so they’re more formal,” he said.
The informality of the nickname doesn’t bother Axelrod at all, he said.
“At this point, they [call me Axe] a lot,” Axelrod said. “It’s probably something that grew over the years.”