Mayor Pete gives US voters a Maltese lesson to explain 'Buttigieg'

US presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has faced countless questions about his surname during his campaign to win the Democratic Party primary race for the White House.

But the 37-year-old presidential candidate knows if he were to go all the way and replace Donald Trump, he would still not be the first president Buttigieg in the world.

“There was a president Buttigieg in Malta who was next-door neighbours with my family, and we weren’t even related,” the US presidential candidate told a group of voters at a breakfast meeting this week.

His reference is to Anton Buttigieg, who was Malta’s second president and who lived in Ħamrun – the same town Pete Buttigieg’s Maltese father, English professor Joseph Buttigieg, was from.

Prof. Buttigieg emigrated from Malta to the US in the 1970s and died in 2019. He was posthumously appointed to the National Order of Merit last year. 

Maltese language lesson

Candidate Buttigieg gave the voters a little Maltese language lesson as he explained the origins of his surname - “’Tiġieġ’ means ‘chicken’, so Buttigieg probably means ‘owner of poultry’” – and told them that although it might get US voters’ tongues in a twist, Buttigieg was an extremely common surname in Malta.

He talked up his familial roots, telling them that Malta was “beautiful” and that they most likely knew it as the backdrop to some famous films and TV series such as Game of Thrones. 

The US presidential candidate also gave an indication of when he had last visited Malta, telling the voters that he had stumbled onto the set of Hollywood blockbuster World War Z without noticing.

Filming of World War Z started in Malta in July 2011.

Mr Buttigieg even gave the small group directions for how to find Malta.

 “If you draw a line from Sicily to Tunisia it will go through Malta,” he told them.

Polls indicate that Mr Buttigieg is one of four frontrunners in the Democratic Party race, together with political veterans Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.   

Voting in the primaries begins in Iowa on February 3. 

Amended January 18 - A previous version of this article stated that Anton Buttigieg was Malta's first president.