Once the introductions are made, Joey Chestnutt and Chop Gallagher know the questions will follow.
“Is that your real name?”
“Are you him?”
“How do you spell that?”
Chestnutt and Gallagher, members of the Towson men’s lacrosse team, understand those queries are part of the territory that comes with being associated with the reigning 13-time hot dog eating champion of the world and having a first name that inspires thoughts of cutting wood versus scoring goals.
Both players said they have yet to tire of the questions.
“Most of the time, when they do [ask], I try to have fun with it,” said Chestnutt, a senior faceoff specialist.
Said Gallagher, a freshman attackman: “It’s always a good icebreaker.”
In a sport that annually features some of the more unusual and entertaining names, here are the stories behind the names of the two Tigers players.
Chestnutt’s full name is actually William Joseph Chestnutt Jr. As a tribute to paternal grandfather Joseph Ellerson Chestnutt — who was affectionately known as “Joe E.” — and a way to avoid calling for William and getting two replies, Leslie Chestnutt began to call her youngest child Joey at a young age.
Chestnutt said everyone called him Joey except for teachers on the first day of school each year.
“It would be kind of funny because the kids would look around for the new kid,” said Chestnutt, who grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina. “I would have to stand up and say, ‘That’s me,’ and the kids would go, ‘No, you’re not.’ But once we got to middle school, everybody got the hang of it.”
Chestnutt, 22, said he first learned of Joey Chestnut, the No. 1-ranked competitor in professional competitive eating, when he was a fifth grader and a teacher informed him of Chestnut. Chestnutt went home and with his family’s help, found Chestnut’s videos and was enamored.
“To me, it was really cool because at that point in time, it was close to summer,” he said. “So I didn’t have to wait too long for the Fourth of July hot dog-eating contest. So it was just kind of funny hearing your name and seeing everything on TV as a kid. And as an athlete at the time, I always wanted to be on TV and hear my own name called. So it was kind of one those things that kept driving me, and it was just funny to hear it.”
When the Chestnutt family moved to Freeland in Baltimore County in the summer before his sophomore year, Chestnutt attended a Hereford High School football camp. A senior approached Chestnutt and asked if he could call him “Hot Dog,” and Chestnutt gave his approval.
Leslie Chestnutt said her son’s association with Joey Chestnut doesn’t bother her.
“It’s a great conversation starter, and it’s sure to get a chuckle,” she said. “So it hasn’t been a negative.”
William Chestnutt Sr. said he has had some fun of his own with his son’s name.
“When people ask me, ‘Are you related to Joey Chestnut?,” I say, ‘Yeah, he’s my son. Not the hot dog one, the other one,’” the elder Chestnutt said. “It’s been all fun and games, and what has made it all fun and games is that Joey doesn’t have an issue with it.”
Since joining Towson, Chestnutt has sought to meet his more famous namesake. In his freshman year, he heard that Chestnut would be in Towson to compete in a buffalo wing eating contest, but he couldn’t get out of a class. The sports information department has reached out to Chestnut via social media to organize an impromptu eating contest, but has not had much success.
Chestnutt’s name was singled out last week by The Post Game, a lacrosse podcast, and the tweet drew the attention of Chestnut, who did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
Chestnutt said his biggest meal was two fully loaded burritos in 30 minutes after a football practice as a sophomore. So how would he fare in a hot dog contest?
“I could probably eat 15 to 20 if I’m lucky and it’s a good day,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not saying they’re going to stay down, but if it’s a hot dog-eating contest between me and the real Joey Chestnut, yeah, we’re doing it. I’m going all-in.”
Tigers coach Shawn Nadelen said Chestnutt’s maturity has earned him a reputation as the uncle figure of the team.
“He’s a very bright, studious kid,” Nadelen said. “He’s a physics major with a concentration in engineering. … He’s obviously a very strong student. He’s a very focused faceoff guy. He knows that’s his role and tries to do his best to be serviceable there. Now that he’s a senior, he’s working as a mentor for the younger guys, and even though he’s not our No. 1, he’s still competing to be there. He’s helping those younger guys like [redshirt freshman] Shane Santora and [freshman] William Frith to help them understand practice, their roles, the college faceoff landscape.”
When Tim and Gretchen Gallagher welcomed their second son into the world, the infant weighed in at an astounding 10 pounds, 2 ounces and was measured at 24 inches long. Art majors at the University of Oregon, the Gallagher parents named their second son Calder Stark Gallagher after American metal sculptor Alexander Calder. (Stark is Gretchen Gallagher’s maiden name.)
When they brought the new baby home, their Peruvian nanny, Mary Edwards, knew little English. She took to calling the baby “Chonchito,” Spanish for pork chop. Soon, Calder became Chop, and the name stuck.
Gallagher, now 18, said he has been called Chop for as long as he can remember.
“If I’m a restaurant and they say, ‘What’s your name?’ I’ll be like, ‘Chop,’ and they’ll look at me for a second,” he said. “Then I’ll say, ‘C-H-O-P,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh, OK.’ They don’t really ask any questions. But if I meet somebody for the first time and I say, ‘Chop,’ they usually just ask, ‘Oh, where is that from?’ and I’ll tell them the story.”
Gallagher said the Chop name is a conversation starter.
“If it’s girls, they think it’s super cute,” he said with a laugh. “So I feel like that’s kind of a plus for me. Parents think it’s awesome. Some people think it’s lacrosse-related, but it’s not at all. So when I tell them the real story, they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s way cooler.’”
Gallagher said few of his teammates know his birth name. But he uses his birth name when identifying himself during online classes.
Earlier this year, a teammate, senior defenseman Koby Smith, called Gallagher by his nickname during a business course, and the professor stopped the discussion to ask Smith to identify Chop.
“I had to turn it on and say, ‘Oh, that’s me,’” Gallagher said. “Then she asked, ‘Why does he call you Chop?’ Then I had to explain the story, and she just laughed.”
Gretchen Gallagher said her son’s grandmother is the only person who regularly calls him by his birth name. Gallagher said she only calls her son by his birth name when he gets in trouble, which she said has not happened in a long time.
“I love it, and I love it that he loves it,” she said. “ … He has grabbed onto it. Now he doesn’t have to think, ‘Does this person know me as Calder or as Chop?’ He can start with, ‘I’m Chop.’ So I think it has simplified things for him, and I see that going forward.”
With the Tigers, Gallagher started the first two games against No. 2 Virginia and St. Joseph’s and has one assist thus far. Nadelen said Gallagher is showing his potential even as a freshman.
“You can see the skill and IQ in his game, but now he’s got more of a presence physically, which is neat,” Nadelen said. “We always liked his savviness around the cage, his ability to carry the ball, and his ability to play with his head up. That can go a long way going from high school to college, and I think the opportunity presented itself on our team with where we are with the attack.”
Chop Gallagher said he hasn’t heard too many opponents tease him about his name.
“I don’t know if you’re going to try to talk smack to me and your name is Drew or Josh,” he quipped. “I could come back with, ‘You don’t have a very cool name. So what are you saying to me?’”
Nadelen admitted that he has had fun with Chestnutt’s and Gallagher’s names, calling them by their birth names to get their attention or provide a little mirth during practice. But he chortled when asked if Towson is developing a reputation for fielding an All-Name team.
“That’s definitely not something we focus on in recruiting,” he said. “I think it just happened to be that way right now. It just so happens those two young and talented players have great and unique names.”