Editor’s note: This post was originally published on May 14, 2008. It was substantially revised and re-posted on June 30, 2014.
Matthew is evergreen, a name nearly as classic as James.
Step into the wayback machine, and Matthew becomes our ancient Baby Name of the Day: Matthias.
According to the New Testament, after Judas betrayed Jesus, Matthew was tapped to become the new apostle, bringing the group back up to an even dozen.
Born in Galilee, and also known as Levi, his name was probably closer to the Hebrew Matityahu – gift of God. He’s known as one of the four evangelists, author of the Gospel of Matthew, and, of course, a saint.
Matthias and Matthaeus were the Latin versions of the name, and international versions abound. The German Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald was also recorded as Mathis, while the Croatian-born Lutheran reformer Matthias Flacius was Matija. The Italian Matteo and French Mathieu, would also become Matthias in some records.
In English, Matthew was never wildly popular. Sure there’s Commodore Matthew Perry, opening Japan to the West in the nineteenth century. Trailblazing African-American explorer Matthew Henson accompanied Robert Peary to the Arctic in the early part of the 1900s. Matthew has a long history of use, but has only been a Top 100 name in the US since the 1950s. File him with Nicholas – they might be classics, but until the last few generations, they haven’t been among the most common choices.
Matthias and Mathias were even rarer. Matthias cracked the US Top 1000 just twice in the nineteenth century, and not at all in the twentieth. Mathias was slightly more common into the 1910s, but has been equally obscure since.
Notables who answered to the name make for an eclectic bunch:
- It’s a family name for the Dukes of Lorraine, including two Dukes, the first in the 1100s, and the second a century later.
- The reign of Renaissance-era ruler of Hungary, King Matthias I, also known as Matthias Corvinus, saw much armed conflict, but the king also patronized the arts and sciences, reformed the legal system, and assembled a staggering library.
- In the 1610s, Matthias was Holy Roman Emperor – and King of Hungary as Matthias II.
- The name persists in aristocratic families throughout the era, and there are also a handful of artists who answer to Matthias.
- This one might be more familiar: Brian Jacques used the name for a heroic mouse in his Redwall series, known as Matthias the Warrior. His son is called Mattimeo.
Nowadays, both the single and double ‘t’ spellings are on the rise. Credit our affection or ancient names like Atticus and Julius. As of 2013, Matthias charted at #608, while Mathias came in at #634.
Add in Mateo – ranked #109 in 2013 – and Matteo, standing at #377, plus still #15 Matthew, and that’s a lot of boys who could answer to Matt.
But just like Atticus requires no nickname, chances are that most men named Matthias can comfortably go nickname-free.
All of this makes for a great compromise name – a classic with Biblical roots, but a name that is relatively rare – unless, of course, you opt for the everyguy nickname Matt, which is always a possibility.
What do you think of Matthias? Do you prefer Matthew or Matteo instead?