Billie Eilish has been one of the world’s biggest celebrities for a decent while now, but people still have a hard time saying her name (and not just Rainn Wilson or Dionne Warwick). In fact, as Billboard reports, Eilish’s last name made it onto the US Captioning Company’s 2021 list of the most frequently mispronounced words on TV.
The list is based on surveys of members and was commissioned by language-learning platform Babbel. Esteban Touma, a stand-up comedian and teacher for Babbel Live, says, “Newscasters in the US have struggled with 2021’s new words and names while reporting on key sporting events, viral internet trends and emerging celebrities. As a language teacher, it’s always interesting to see that some of these terms are usually new colloquialisms, or are rooted or borrowed from another language. As a non-native speaker, I must confess it’s fun to see English speakers stumbling a bit for a change.”
It turns out there’s a history when it comes to the pronunciation of “Eilish,” even before Billie. A 2014 article from IrishCentral includes Eilish in its list of “commonly mispronounced Irish names” and indicates the proper pronunciation is “E-leesh.” A year earlier, though, a forum topic on Nameberry has multiple users chiming in on how they think the name is pronounced, and “EYE-lish” is among the most popular answers. In both of those cases, “Eilish” is treated as a first name, which is actually consistent with the singer’s name: Eilish isn’t the singer’s real last name like it may seem, as her full name is Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell.
Eilish herself has clarified how the name is pronounced. In a 2017 BBC interview, for example, she said, “It’s ‘eye-lish,’ like ‘eyelash’ with a ‘lish.'”