The Global Hit Name You Haven't Noticed

Oct 12th 2009

I've talked before about the international style of names -- the smooth classics that are easy to spell and pronounce in many languages, and that have soared in the age of the European Union. Names like Alexander, Anna and Lucas are popular in dozens of different countries. As an English speaker, you can probably feel their fashion energy. They are names of our moment, timeless yet distinctly youthful. As a group, they're five times more popular in the U.S. today than they were in the 1960s.

Yet there's another name with global momentum to rival those fashionable three. It's a boy's name, a biblical classic. A form of it ranks in the top 10 in 22 different countries, including the United States. In fact, it cracks the top 100 in every single country that reports its top 100 names. Have you thought of Matthew yet?

Matthew strikes me as an unusually quiet world beater. Part of that, doubtless, has to do with my American perspective. The U.S. hit its Matthew stride early. The name first hit the American top 100 in 1956, and it has stayed there ever since. It's hard to see a New Classic like that as trendy.

There are other reasons for its stealth popularity too, though. Unlike the international-styled names, Matthew tends to "go local" around the world with a wealth of international variants. The two spellings Anna and Ana are enough for that name to cover the globe. Even Lucas, which like Matthew splits into local and Latinate versions (Matthew/Matthias, Luke/Lucas), places only five forms on the global charts: Luca, Lucas, Luka, Lukas and Luke. Matthew, in contrast, shows up in 30 different versions from Maciej to Thijs. This can mask the name's true fashion power when you're scanning global rankings -- or even rankings within a single country. Belgium, with its multiple linguistic traditions, counts no fewer than seven versions of Matthew among its top 100 boys' names.

Here's my roundup of top-100 Matthews around the world. The real number is doubtless much higher, as many countries report only their top 10 or 20 names.

Argentina: Matías, #3; Mateo, #13
Australia/New South Wales: Matthew, #21
Australia/Victoria: Matthew, #21
Austria: Matthias, #19
Belgium: Mathis, #9; Matteo, #22; Mathias, #23; Mathéo, #35; Mats, #89; Mathieu, #90; Matthias, #97
Brazil: Matheus, #4
Canada/Alberta: Matthew, #8
Canada/British Columbia: Matthew, #6
Canada/Ontario: Matthew, #2
Canada/Quebec: Mathis, #11; Mathieu, #35; Mathias, #47; Matthew, #76; Mathys, #78; Matis, #84
Canada/Saskatchewan: Matthew, #10
Chile: Matias, #4
Czech Republic: Matej, #7; Matyas, #17; Matous, #25
Denmark: Mathias, #11, Mads, #12
England: Matthew, #24
Finland: Matias, #4
France: Mathis, #3
Georgia: Mate, #8
Germany: Matthis, #87
Hungary: Máté, #2; Matyas, #53
Iceland: Matthias, #32
Ireland: Matthew, #17
Italy: Matteo, #4; Mattia, #7
Lithuania: Matas, #1
Netherlands: Thijs, #13
New Zealand: Matthew, #21
Northern Ireland: Matthew, #2
Norway: Mathias, #1, Mats, #56, Mads, #95
Poland: Mateusz, #3; Maciej, #11
Scotland: Matthew, #9
Slovenia: Matic, #8; Matevž, #28; Matej, #30; Matija, #32
Spain: Mateo, #62
Sweden: Mattias, #82
Switzerland (Italian): Mattia, #4
United States: Matthew, #10


p.s. My timing's off on posts this week...I hope anyone who still wants to discuss urban legend names will continue to comment on the earlier series, parts 1, 2, and 3.


By A Rose, not signed in (not verified)
October 12, 2009 10:26 PM

Very interesting. I didn't realize Matthew (or variations thereof) were so popular!

By A Rose, not signed in (not verified)
October 12, 2009 10:36 PM

Also wondering, are any other names like that? Michael? Elizabeth?

By Joni
October 12, 2009 11:01 PM

Wow, what an amazingly well timed post. I was just wondering YESTERDAY why we'd never considered Matthew for any of our kids since it has such a nice sound... It was like I'd forgotten how much I liked the name.

Course, for us the simple answer is that it's BIL's name, but still. Matt. It's such a great nn. Have loved Matthias for a while now and did consider that name for a child who ended up a girl. :)

By Ash (not verified)
October 13, 2009 1:03 AM

I'm sort of in love with this post. And was already in love with Matthew. I just look at those numbers and variants in awe! Thank you!

October 13, 2009 1:17 AM

Just wanted to mention an interesting name I came across in a book today: Trim (b). It struck me as odd because of its meaning(s), but I could see how its sound fits in with current trends. The book is The Emotional Life of the Toddler, by Alicia Lieberman, written in 1993. Throughout the book, Lieberman talks about many individual children whose names she has changed for privacy purposes. Often the names seem way off the mark for toddlers in 1993 -- examples include Linda, Barbara, Jeannie, Nancy, Jerry, Martin, and Lenny, for instance. But then there are some names that seem perfectly appropriate for children born in the early 90s, and a few names that even seem ahead of their time (Helena, Sofia, Tobias). As an aside, I would highly recommend the book for parents of toddlers or soon-to-be parents of toddlers.

By Amy3
October 13, 2009 6:37 AM

Oh, I *love* Matthew (it would have been my mn had I been a boy), and I think Matt is a great nn. It would have been a strong contender for a boy's name (goes so well with the mn we chose) if my husband hadn't known just too many Matts who ruined it for him.

October 13, 2009 7:35 AM

I like it, posting again quickly before we get out of control!

Matthew is a great name, but I don't like the nn Matt. I like Matty though. I feel an alternate nn brainstorm coming on..

Here's another girl's name: Maatia, nn Maati. I haven't checked but I assumed it was a legit variation when I heard it.

October 13, 2009 7:54 AM

I am so happy to find this site!!!!!!! Laura's book helped me name 2 of my 3 kids! Her book is one I recommend to all expectant parents as there are some CRAZY names floating around out there!!!! We stuck with traditional names for our kids so they won't hate us when they are older ;) Mathias is one we considered for both boys but liked Jacob and Alexander better. Great site!!!!

By Anna (not verified)
October 13, 2009 8:21 AM

So, I just had to check the Scandinavian lists (of course...) and discovered something that is probably only interesting to me. So without further ado...: the Danish top-10 for boys is fluctuating like mad between the first and second half of 2008 (and other years). Example: Mikkel, the 2nd most popular name from Jan-June 2008 fell to no 6 in July-Dec, and ended up being no 4 in 2008 as a whole. (Background: names must be reported within 6 months, so the most-popular lists are reported semi-annually with a 6-7 month delay).

This makes me wonder how strong an influence the release of the most-popular lists has on parents' name choice? Or is it just because of natural variation? Perhaps it is only possible to observe these fluctuations because the total numbers are small (the most popular name, Lucas, was given to 816 boys - compare to 22,000 Jacobs at no 1 on the SSA list). The only "seasonal" top-50 name is August, and yes it is noticeably more popular in the July-Dec group than in Jan-June. But other than that I can't find any logical explanation; does eg. William sound like a "spring month name" to you?

By Eo (not verified)
October 13, 2009 8:24 AM

bianca-- I seem to remember someone suggesting a while back "Mats" as a possible nickname. It's neat that Belgium and Norway have that as a formal variant as well... Also like Quebec's "Mathis".

Anne with an e-- Sorry to be so late chiming in, but I think both Vaughn/Vaughan and Graham are great.

Only one thing about "Graham" bothers me. When we were discussing Graham before, I was surprised anew at how many people here in America grow up mispronouncing (which may be too strong a way of putting it) this old Scottish/English name. The Brits say "GRAY-um", two syllables, as opposed to the less euphonious Gram.

But it appears that a large fraction here ONLY know that way of saying it, and are incredulous that GRAY-um is the original way.

"Gram", besides not being traditional, sounds too much like Grandma, Grammy, etc. and therefore too identified with the feminine for my taste...

So, pronunciation issues would keep coming up for me. But maybe you don't care, or like Gram, or live in the U.K. or Canada so it will rarely come up! In that case, never mind!

I love both spellings of the Welsh "Vaughn/Vaughan", the sound, everything. (Also like "Van", which among other origins was an English surname indicating someone lived near a marsh...) Has also been a nickname for the Welsh "Evan"...

Someone has probably mentioned this already, but what do people think of Heidi Klum and Seal's new baby "Lou Sulola Samuel"? There has to be some interesting history behind that name. I'm going to guess that some of them are family names? I find it piquant and although it wouldn't be my style, I'm not put off by it like I am by some other celeb baby monikers.

By Lizzy (not verified)
October 13, 2009 8:58 AM

Creepy coincidence: this post about the name Matthew was published on the 11th anniversary of Matthew Sherpard's death.

October 13, 2009 8:59 AM

Very interesting numbers and statistics about Matthew. It's always been among one of my favorite names. I prefer the traditional classic names and think Matthew goes well as a mn for many fn's. In fact, it is my ds's mn. I don't care for it as a fn though for I feel Matt as a nn is too short and choppy. Same with some other classics such as Micheal nn Mike, Thomas nn Tom, etc.

By Saya (not verified)
October 13, 2009 9:07 AM

the problem with Matthew (and especially with the nickname of Matt) is that way too many of us went to school with an annoying boy named Matt... (or more than one of them!)

Interesting on the Graham - I think if you listen closely - you can hear the remainder of the old pronounciation - especially down here in the south where everything gets turned into extra syllables... I normally associate words being condensed into one syllable as being a northern or British pronounciation in general, with multiple syllables being a southern US thing, so its interesting to hear an example that is opposite...

By Rayne of terror (not verified)
October 13, 2009 9:07 AM

Definitely would not consider Matthew because of it's popularity in the 70s. To me it lumps together with Jennifer and Jason. Matt is a dad's name now. There are more Matts in my social group than any other name.

By Eo (not verified)
October 13, 2009 9:19 AM

Saya, that's very perceptive of you to notice that paradox re Graham-- had occurred to me as well...

By Sarah B (not verified)
October 13, 2009 9:26 AM

@A Rose - Take a look at the top names in Canada. Many are chosen specifically because they translate well in both English and French. Simon and Sebastian are popular there, but not here.

By Anna (not verified)
October 13, 2009 9:37 AM

Rayne - that's interesting, because Michael has always been more popular than Matthew. Even though Michael peaked earlier it was still more popular than Matthew, when Matthew peaked in the 80s. Maybe you have a thing for Matthews!?

October 13, 2009 9:45 AM

Rayne of terror wrote:

"Definitely would not consider Matthew because of it's popularity in the 70s. To me it lumps together with Jennifer and Jason. Matt is a dad's name now."

Yep, and I suspect that's what's behind the recent fast rise of Mathias/Matthias in the U.S. -- it feels fresher.

October 13, 2009 10:20 AM

I agree that Matthew is associated with Jennifer in my mind in terms of popularity/age spectrum. I actually have a couple of friends named Matt who live together, who are collectively known as "the Matts". If you want to differentiate them, you call them by their last name. :)

October 13, 2009 10:26 AM

@ A Rose

There are other names like this. Here are some stats on Michael in other countries.

Michael - #2 United States, #9 Ireland
Michal - #9 Czech Republic
Michiel - #129 Belgium
Mikkel - #2 Denmark, #60 Norway
Mikael - #106 Norway, #157 Sweden
Mikal - #215 Norway
Mikail - #383 Norway
Miguel - #16 Spain

I had noticed that about Matthew a while ago when all the Mathias and Mattea names started becoming more popular

I think the next name this is going to happen with will be Max. There are already several variations of it out there for both boys and girls.

By lunzy (not verified)
October 13, 2009 10:33 AM

I agree. Matt is a guy in his 30s or 40s for me. I love Mateo though. might have to add that to the name list! ;)

October 13, 2009 10:48 AM

linzybindi wrote:

"There are other names like this. Here are some stats on Michael in other countries..."

Absolutely -- many names morph into dozens of international versions, with the ultimate being John: Evan, Giovanni, Ian, Ivan, Sean, Johannes, etc. etc. I haven't found any others with the current fashion power of the Matthews, though. There are only a handful of countries where the local form of Michael outranks Matthew, and in some countries like France Michael has already pretty much come and gone.

October 13, 2009 10:58 AM

Thanks for the Vaughn/Graham feedback everyone! It seems to be pretty equally split though, which does not help me narrow things down, but I guess I picked 2 names that everyone here likes.

Vaughn was my first favorite, I'm just worried that it might be a little too "out there" for our circle of family and friends (which includes lots of Michaels and Matthews!) Graham seems like a slightly "safer" choice, but since it will definitely be pronounced in the "Gram" American way, and any offspring of ours will probably be equally pasty in complexion, I do worry about cracker jokes.

Plus, our last name is H0ward, and Vaughn Douglas H0ward almost sounds like I'm trying too hard if that makes sense? Maybe because it's 3 British surnames in a row?

October 13, 2009 11:12 AM

The John thing is crazy to me! I cannot believe how many names come from that one small name. My husband's name is Evan and when I first started to get into the etymology of names and where they came from I couldn't believe what I stumbled upon just looking up his name.

Michael is a big name is my family. My dad, brother and nephew are all Michael. It is possible to blame Michael for all the Michaela, Mikayla, Makaila?

By Kim in Philly (not verified)
October 13, 2009 11:18 AM

Baby name alert:
Rebecca Lauren to my SIL. I like it: classic, timeless and pretty.

By AmyElizabeth (not verified)
October 13, 2009 11:35 AM

Biance, alternate nn's for Matthew: Huey came to mind but I'm not really a fan of that one. There's also Theo but that's kind of a stretch.

Anne with an E, I think Graham Douglas Howard has a similar feel to Vaughn Douglas Howard (as in 3 surnames), but I don't think either sounds like you're trying too hard

I agreed with other posters, Matthew definitely sounds like a dad name to me -- but the numbers don't lie, the name is definitley in the contemporary classic territory.

By AmyElizabeth (not verified)
October 13, 2009 11:36 AM

Kim in Philly, Rebecca Lauren is quite pretty, it gets a thumbs up from me

October 13, 2009 11:46 AM

Thanks, Laura- one of my very favorite pastimes is to work out different variants on traditional names by country. Biblical names are good in that respect, in that you know there must be one. As opposed to, for example, William or Robert, which only travel so far from Northern Europe.

Anna- I was fascinated therefore to discover that Lars is from Laurentius, Mads from Matthew, and so on. Some of the Scandinavian names had foxed me up until now. Actually, some of them still do- Morten? Wibeke? Bodil? Maybe they are purely Nordic.

I've never particularly liked Matthew, but love Mathias the way the French pronounce it: mah-TEE-ahss.

By michael (not verified)
October 13, 2009 12:28 PM

Yup, named my son (now 6.5 months old) Matthias. We got a lot of weird looks and people botch it up all the time, but it fits him well. He is our fourth child (he followed two miscarriages) so he truly is a Gift of God. Also on his birth, he was placed in NICU with a spontaneous pneumothorax (hole in lung, but now is perfectly fine. Already trying to God be the glory...

October 13, 2009 12:38 PM

As much as I like the classic names of Michael, Matthew, Isaac, Lucas, etc. I cannot stand John. Maybe it's just a thing with one syllable names. Maybe it's the "aw" sound. Maybe it's because it's so prevalent on my family tree. However, I do like Giaovanni, Evan, Ivan, Jacques, and Johann.

Anne with an E-You may be overthinking this one. Isn't any name you pick going to sound like simply 3 fn's with a LN of Howard? Of course, about the only name you can't pick is Howard LOL! What if you put Graham Vaughn as a combo? I think that spices things up a bit. Douglas is a wondeful name and also a family name for me, but it seems a bit bland. If I remember correctly you were making a sibset with a Rowan. What is his mn?

By Maggie2 (not verified)
October 13, 2009 12:43 PM

We named our little boy Matthew John. Two Bible names, I know, but the John was after family and we both liked Matthew, which was a miracle because we disagreed on every other boy name possibility. And then we got home from the hospital and looked it up, and realized we had picked the #2 name here in Canada (groan!). We don't know any other Matthews in the under-20 age group, so we were shocked to see how popular it is.
However, we are still happy with his name, it is hard to go wrong with classics, even if they are popular.

By Anna (not verified)
October 13, 2009 1:12 PM

Valerie - there aren't much left of the original Latin names in the Scandinavian derivatives. A non-name person would probably never suspect they were related.

Morten (and Mårten) are Danish/Norwegian forms of Martin. There are nearly the same numbers of Mortens and Martins.
Bodil is an old name of Nordic origin. It's an "old lady name" these days.
Vibeke (or Wibeke) is of North Germanic origin and supposedly means "little woman". It contains the common German diminutive suffix -ke. The name doesn't sound Scandinavian (it's pronounced Vee'Beh'Keh), but it has been reasonably popular anyway.

Anything else?!

By hyz
October 13, 2009 1:24 PM

Anna, I always thought that Wibeke and Wiebke had the meaning you said--related to the German word weiblich (feminine, womanly). I was about to write that in response to Valerie, but then I noticed that behindthename and other such sites had the name coming from old Norse or something to that effect and being in the family of the other bithematic German names (hildegard, et al.), with part of the name (wig?) possibly meaning "war". Another site related the name to Viveca and had it meaning something like "lively". I don't know what to believe anymore!

By Qwen
October 13, 2009 1:46 PM

I really like the quick posts!

As for Matthew, I also associate it with Jasons and Jennifers (it probably doesn't help that I know about 10 of them all around age 30... we do that last name thing a lot too). However I am a little in love with the name Matteo. I first stumbled across it in the book "Love Walked In" and instantly added it to my boy list. Unfortunately, my husband vetoed it quite soundly.

I actually came to ask people what they thought of the name Heidi and Seal picked as well. Lou is a different choice for a girl but I kinda like it; it feels spunky. I also thought it made for an interesting sibset:
Helene "Leni" Klum
Henry Gunther Ademola Dashtu Samuel
Johan Riley Fyodor Taiwo Samuel
Lou Sulola Samuel.

By knp (not verified)
October 13, 2009 1:51 PM

Anne with an E: I love both Vaughn and Graham. I am pushing for Vaughn a little more (in fact, it is our #1 boys name) and don't think it is any more "out there". I love Graham too, but can't use it. Both names are handsome with XXXX Douglas Howard. When I just consider 1st and last names though, I think Graham Howard sounds a tiny bit better. But, I don't think you could make a bad decision here.

I think you should play the game where you choose one out of a hat-- and that is the name. Unless you are disappointed you didn't get the name you REALLY wanted. Having a "decision" mad can clarify your feelings.

By hyz
October 13, 2009 2:04 PM

Wait, Lou is a girl? Is Samuel a MN or a LN? I thought Sulola sounded feminine for a boy, but I was unfamiliar with it and just assumed I was wrong on that. I'm not loving Lou ___ Samuel on a girl in any event. I like the rest of the sibs, though.

By Anna (not verified)
October 13, 2009 2:28 PM

Hyz - all my Scandinavian sources claim that the origin of Vibeke is Low German (Wiebke). They say that Wiebke itself means "little woman". Wiebke can be a name on its own and it can also be a short form of other names starting with /Wig/ meaning war-something, just like you said.

Here's more - (but it's in Low German...)

I guess you can say that Vibeke is a Scandinavian name because Vibeke is the *form* of Wiebke used in Scandinavia. But unless my sources are completely wrong, I wouldn't say it is of Scandinavian *origin*. I've never heard anyone else claim that Vibeke is an old Norse name, and my first thought is that it can't possibly be because the sound is wrong.

According to the same sources, Viveca is indeed related to Vibeke/Wiebke but it is listed as a German form. The name is quite rare in Scandinavia. Lively would be "livlig" in everyday Swedish and "viva" only exists in loanwords from Latin. So, maybe thinkbabynames got it wrong...?

By hyz
October 13, 2009 2:37 PM

Ok, so I looked it up, and Lou is a girl, and Samuel is her last name. I understand that Lou is not totally foreign to girls because of its use in things like Marylou, Louella, Louise, etc., but I find Lou itself to be pretty masculine (my first images are a mechanic or short order cook, for some reason, even though I know lots of white collar/upper middle class boomer men by that name), and especially jarring with the LN. I actually know a woman with the LN Samuel who goes by a masculine short form of her full name (think Chris for Christina), and that always threw me off, too--I kept forgetting her name because it didn't seem to fit her.

So this leads me to a new personal "rule"--when the LN is a common masculine given name (Samuel, Howard, Douglas, etc.), I'd be very inclined to give a girl an unmistakeably female name, preferably one without a common male/unisex nn.

October 13, 2009 2:37 PM

Wow, Legos everywhere and a floating survey request that doesn't go away when you scroll down. Yuck!

By Guest (not verified)
October 13, 2009 2:37 PM

I've read that Mathis is supposed to be pronouced "Mattise" like the painter. I'm curious if that's true universally, because we've considered the name Mathis pronounced "Math-is/es" but I don't want there to be confusion about it.

How would you spell it if you wanted the more Anglo less French pronunciation?

October 13, 2009 2:41 PM

BTW, apparently Lou is a popuar German name. It's short for Louise. First daughter is Leni (pronounced the German way Layney, which is a nickname for Helene, Heidi's Grandmother. So, apparently, Heidi's naming style for girls is German nicknames.

By hyz
October 13, 2009 2:47 PM

Anna, I could follow along a bit with the Low German link, but clicked on the sidebar where it offered a link to the page in German.
The information there does not appear to be identical to the Low German page, but it seems to back up behindthename in saying that it is a short form of the "wig" names, and not mentioning anything about the "womanly" meaning. Very curious.... I'm glad to hear that at least your Scandinavian sources are backing us up on this.

By hyz
October 13, 2009 2:56 PM

Tirzah, I'm surprised to hear "just" Lou is common for girls anyhere--thanks for the info. I don't mind it as a nn for Louise, so if Ms. Klum and Seal had asked my opinion (about which I'm sure they care very deeply, lol), I think it would've been so much nicer to go with the full Louise, in keeping with what Klum apparently did with Leni (the internet informs me that her full name is Helene). I'd still personally have the "Lou Samuel" double masculine FN reservation, but at least little Lou(ise) would have a full name to fall back on if it bothered her.

By Eo (not verified)
October 13, 2009 3:28 PM

Guest, for Mathis I believe English speakers would go automatically to the "MATH-iss" pronunciation you reference, like the surname-- Johnny Mathis, etc.

A related surname is "Matheson", meaning "son of Matthew". I kind of like it as an alternative to the attractive but admittedly well-worn Matthew.

To me the kiss of death, so to speak, was the fact that fully two out of the three male lead actors on the quintessential Gen X show "Friends" were a Matt and Matthew in real life!

If it were my or my son's name I'd have to go with a less-trammeled nickname. But nonetheless, a gorgeous Biblical classic like Matthew, (and Michael for that matter,) will endure and inspire many generations to come, no doubt.

By Eo (not verified)
October 13, 2009 3:32 PM

Re Mathis pronunciation-- But of course, if you lived in Quebec or France, expect the French pronunciation...

October 13, 2009 4:01 PM

Just to point out there is another Anglicized "Matthew's Son" name that is very popular out there right now:


October 13, 2009 4:04 PM

anne with an e,
for what it is worth, i've only ever heard the name graham pronounced as "gram" (i live in the states). i actually knew a guy name graham in high school, and i always thought that the name sounded classy (compared to the joeys and the tylers and the ryans (not that i dislike those names, but you know what i mean)), and i never heard anyone say it sounded feminine or make any graham cracker jokes. so my guess is that if you live in the states, no one will find it girly. my roommate's last name is also graham, pronounced "gram." though, i do see how one would find "gram" feminine if you were used to "gray-um." that makes sense. but here in the states (or at least in some areas), i feel like "gram" is very accepted. that being said, i also like vaughn.

October 13, 2009 4:11 PM

When I was in high school my favorite baby names were Catherine and Matthew. As it turned out, we did name our first daughter Catherine (the family name DH also favored before we met). With our 5 sons, we again favored family names and never had a Matthew, although the last almost had Matthew as his middle name. My sister subsequently named her son Matthew. When our grandsons -- 11 of them so far and all except one with traditional names -- started coming along in 2001, I hoped there might be a Matthew among them. But just as others have noted, there were so many Matthews and Matts among my children's classmates that Matthew holds no special appeal, plus some consider the name 'taken' with cousin Matt even though he lives in another part of the country and we rarely see him. We have another grandchild due in April but I'm hoping this one won't be "Matthew", as once again in our family the parents "desperately" want this third child to be a GIRL!

There's something special about the name Matthew, and I can see why it has appealed to so many parents over so many years and in so many countries.

October 13, 2009 4:14 PM


I suspect Kayla influenced Michaela/Makayla instead of Michael.

(Although my own middle name, Miguel, is based off my mother's name, Micaela.)

By Anna (not verified)
October 13, 2009 4:21 PM

Hyz - this is turning into a bit of a mystery! When the Scandinavian sources say that Wiebke means (or once meant) "little woman", I think they mean it completely literally. I also found a German name page which says that the very similar name Wibke indeed means "kleines Weib".

/Weib/ means woman in German and from what I know of Low German, the switch from /ei/ to /ie/ is common. This would make /Weib+ke/ to /Weibke/ to /Wiebke/ with the meaning "little woman" intact a plausible development (just like they claim).

Even though Wiebke literally means "little woman" in its present form, it doesn't mean it couldn't have been derived from old names that meant "warrier"-something. Or maybe there are simply two different old names that have both turned into Wiebke? In that case, does Wiebke still mean "little woman" then? Good question...

Does the nickname /Mad/ from Madison mean angry just like the word /mad/? Well, /Mad/ is identical to /mad/ so I guess you can say that it does, at least technically or coincidentally. The original meaning of Madison was Matthew's son - is the old meaning still there now that you can hardly recognise "Matthew's son" in Madison?
This is why I usually don't get too hung up on meanings ;-)