Matthew was a Top Ten staple from 1974 through 2007, a Biblical boy with a long history of use.
Today parents are borrowing the Italian form for a name that’s fresher and more interesting, but every bit as enduring. Our Baby Name of the Day is Matteo.
Call out Matteo on a Hollywood playground, and you’d expect to see little heads swivel. In recent years:
- Colin Firth welcomed a son called Matteo in 2003, a big brother for Luca.
- Benjamin Bratt called his son Mateo Bravery in 2005, a brother for Sophia Rosalinda.
- Ricky Martin named one of his twins Matteo, a brother to Valentino in 2008.
- Tom Colicchio is the most recent member of the club, with son Mateo Lev born in 2009. Mateo’s brothers are Dante and Luka.
Strictly speaking, the single t spelling is Spanish – and common throughout the Spanish-speaking world – while the double t is Italian, and a Top Ten choice in Italy today. But Ricky Martin used Matteo, and Tom Colicchio opted for Mateo, so in the US, that’s not necessarily a meaningful distinction.
It is no surprise he’s so very international. Saint Matthew was one of the twelve apostles, a witness to the Resurrection, the presumed author of the New Testament’s Gospel of Matthew. You would expect to find a version of Matthew in every European language, and so there is – from Mads in Danish to Matvei in Russian. Mathias and Matthias are very common, too.
But parents are embracing Matteo for another reason – his ends-in-o sound. As boys’ names have become softer, vowel endings like Joshua and Noah have become far more common. Ends in -o options are especially stylish, with Leo (ranked #193 in 2010) and Theo (Theodore ranked #263, with Theo at #915) at the top of the pack, followed by Milo, Marco, Arlo, and Rocco.
Factor in names popular with Spanish-speakers but very wearable in the English-speaking world, like Diego, Antonio, and Santiago, and it is easy to see Matteo’s appeal.
Mateo is more popular in the US, charting at 221 in 2010, with Matteo more than two hundred spaces back at #428. Doubtless Mateo is boosted by Spanish-speaking parents seeking a crossover name.
But despite Matteo’s lesser use, he seems like the spelling to watch – a good choice for parents seeking a name that embraces their Italian heritage, or even just a name for parents who want something only a little bit different. Matteo can still answer to every-guy short form Matt, but his overall sound is distinctive.
Today’s parents grew up with Matthew. We all knew at least one, and actors like Matt Dillon, Matthew McConaughey, Matt Damon, and Matthew Broderick keep the name visible. That’s without counting historical figures like nineteenth century sailor Commodore Matthew Perry, part of the first Western mission to Japan.
Matteo has history aplenty, too. Matteo Visconti ruled Milan in the 1300s; in the sixteenth century, Matteo Ricci was one of the first Jesuit priests in China. Field Marshal Mateo de Toro Zambrano, was a major figure in Chile under the Spanish Empire, and was the fledgling independent state’s first president in 1810.
Matteo bridges a gap between the familiar, boy-next-door name and a modern, international one. He’s a great choice for parents seeking a culture-spanning name, and an equally good option for families intent on finding a not-too-familiar, but not-too-out there option for a son.