Once the SSA releases the 2019 baby name data, we’ll know just how high the name Eilish — an anglicized form of Eilís, the Irish Gaelic form of Elizabeth or Alice — climbed during Billie Eilish’s breakout year.
While we wait, though, we can go back in time to learn why the Irish name Eilish saw its strongest usage in the U.S. in the mid-1990s.
The year Eilish debuted in the data, 1977, it was given to a mere five babies. The year it reappeared, 1993, it was given to nearly two dozen babies. (The same year, we see the reappearance of Ailish and the debut of one-hit wonder Ilish.) And when Eilish peaked in usage three years later, the number had climbed to nearly three dozen.
- 1997: 27 baby girls named Eilish
- 1996: 35 baby girls named Eilish [peak]
- 1995: 17 baby girls named Eilish
- 1994: 14 baby girls named Eilish
- 1993: 23 baby girls named Eilish [return]
- 1992: unlisted
- 1991: unlisted
So what brought Eilish back?
Eilish Holton, a conjoined twin who (along with her sister Katie) was born in County Kildare, Ireland, in August of 1988. The pair were “joined from shoulder to hip, with four arms and two shared legs. Each had her own heart and spinal column but shared one pelvis, one large bowel, one bladder and one kidney.” Eilish was on the right-hand side, Katie on the left-hand side.
The girls came to the attention of Americans thanks to the British TV documentary Katie and Eilish (1992), which aired in the U.S. in May of 1993.
The Peabody Award-winning documentary followed the 3-year-old twins over the twelve months leading up to their 15-hour separation surgery, which took place in London in April of 1992. The film concluded after the operation had taken place and Katie had passed away (due to heart failure, just days after the separation) leaving Eilish as the sole surviving twin.
The documentary’s follow-up, Eilish: Life Without Katie (1995), which aired in the U.S. in July of 1996, is what pushed the name to peak usage three years later.
The second film followed 6-year-old Eilish, who was now getting around with the help of a prosthetic leg (dubbed “Katie,” poignantly). Unlike the first film, though, this one wasn’t well-received by reviewers; one person described it as “maddeningly unchallenging, uninformative and undemanding.”
What are your thoughts on the baby name Eilish? Would you use it?
P.S. Eilish Holton’s four other sisters are named Claire, Therese, Mairead, and Maeve.