Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


“Ebenezer Scrooge” – The Meaning of the Name

posted by Mark D. Roberts

As a first step in our consideration of the question “Why did Ebenezer Scrooge change?” I want to examine the character’s name. Charles Dickens was an author who paid attention to the tiniest details of a story. Surely he chose the name “Ebenezer Scrooge” quite intentionally, fully aware of its multiple layers of meaning.

The Meaning of “Scrooge”

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For us, the word “Scrooge” is synonymous with “cranky, selfish miser.” The character of Ebenezer Scrooge is so familiar that if you were to refer to someone as a “Scrooge,” just about everybody in the Western world would know what you mean. They’d understand that you were not offering a compliment!

In fact, however, the name “Scrooge” is a variation of an obscure English verb: “to scrouge” or “to scruze.” This verb means “to squeeze” or “to press.” The fact that Dickens chose the name “Scrooge” with this meaning in mind is clear in the classic description of the character in Stave One of A Christmas Carol:

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

It’s as if Dickens opened his thesaurus and copied down every synonym of “squeezing.”

What did Ebenezer Scrooge squeeze so tightly? Most obviously, he squeezed his money. He grasped it and clung to it. He held it so tightly that he was unwilling to part with a farthing. But Ebenezer Scrooge also squeezed his heart. He suffocated his own soul with his obsession with gain. Greed was choking the life out of Ebenezer Scrooge.

I believe without a doubt that Dickens chose the name “Scrooge” primarily because of its underlying meaning. But I wonder if a couple other factors figured into the naming equations. First, I wonder if Dickens chose a name that was uncommon or unique. If you’re going to produce a character who is a classic miser, you may not want to name him “Mr. Smith” or “Mr. Roberts,” out of deference to those who have these surnames. Second, the word “Scrooge” just begs to be spoken in a slow, resonant, ghostly manner. When Marley’s ghost drones “Scroooooooge,” that works much better, for example, than “Craaaaachit.” I wouldn’t be surprised if Dickens chose “Scrooge” for its sound as well as its meaning.

The Meaning of “Ebenezer”

In English, Ebenezer is a man’s name. Today it is quite uncommon, apart from its association with A Christmas Carol. In the time of Charles Dickens, men were called Ebenezer, though I’m not able to judge how common the name was. So, for example, in 1840, a man named Ebenezer Elliott, who identified himself as a “Corn-Law Rhymer,” published a book of his poetical works (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1840).

The name “Ebenezer” was not original to the English language. In fact, it was an anglicized version of a Hebrew name, which is itself composed of two Hebrew words. In 1 Samuel 4:1, for example, the Israelities camped at a place called Ebenezer. This name is a combination of the Hebrew word for stone (eben) and the Hebrew word for helper (‘ezer). Thus, an ebenezer (literally, ha-eben ha-‘ezer) would have been a stone that offered some sort of assistance. In 1 Samuel 7:12, the judge Samuel sets up a stone as a monument in remembrance of God’s special help. It was a “help-stone” that reminded the Israelites of God’s care. It was rather like those little monuments you find along highways throughout the United States. They commemorate some event long past, helping us to remember what we would otherwise forget.

Interestingly enough, the name “Ebenezer” appears rarely in A Christmas Carol. Scrooge’s first name is not mentioned in the first pages of the book. We don’t hear it until Marley’s ghost speaks the name, first in explaining that he has no comfort to offer his former partner. Marley’s second use of “Ebenezer” comes when he explains the purpose of his visit: “I am here to-night to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Ebenezer.” This is the first instance of grace given to Scrooge, and he receives it with his first communication of gratitude, saying, “You were always a good friend to me. . . . Thank ‘ee!” The only other character to use the name “Ebenezer” is Old Fezziwig, Scrooge’s former employer whom Scrooge holds in high esteem. The final use of “Ebenezer” in A Christmas Carol comes on a literal ebenezer, Scrooge’s gravestone. This stone completes the transformation of Scrooge, showing him of how his life might end if he does not become a new man.

Charles Dickens, though not orthodox in his Christian faith, was certainly familiar enough with the Bible to have known the meaning of the name Ebenezer. Given this knowledge and his attention to character names, it seems to me likely that he chose the name “Ebenezer” quite intentionally. Ebenezer Scrooge was not only a man with a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping” character. He was also to serve as a monument for readers of A Christmas Carol. Dickens intended Ebenezer Scrooge to remind us of things we ought not forget, lest we end up like Jacob Marley and the other spirits who walked the earth in sorrow, dragging the heavy chains they forged in life.

What Does Scrooge Remind Us Of?

Ebenezer Scrooge reminds us of several things. First and most obviously, he reminds us of Christmas. One cannot read A Christmas Carol without renewing one’s excitement for this unique holiday. As I have noted earlier in this series, when Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, Christmas was by now means a major or beloved holiday. Dickens used the “help-stone” of Ebenezer Scrooge to promote the importance of Christmas.

But for Dickens, the principal value of Christmas was not to celebrate the birth of the Son of God into the world. Rather, Christmas was a time for enjoying friends and family. Moreover, and most of all, it was an occasion for generosity. Dickens’ own estimation of Christmas appears in Stave One on the lips of Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, who says:

But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round–apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that–as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

As the story of A Christmas Carol plays out, this theme is emphasized time and again. Thus, for Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge is an ebenezer who reminds us, not only to celebrate Christmas, but also to do so through being generous to the poor, especially to poor children.



  • http://lynnmosher.blogspot.com Lynn Mosher

    Oh, Mark, this is a wonderful post! You’re the only other person, besides me, that I’ve seen use and define Ebenezer. Your post is excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you! And I hope you have a very blessed Christmas!

  • Kathy Bright

    Thank you, Mark! I always “thought” I knew all about Scrooge but this was an excellent tidbit. I grew up watching the old version of Scrooge with my family every Christmas eve at 11PM…..wonderful memories.
    Christmas Blessings to you and Linda!

  • tom

    A Prayer From Jesus
    It’s finally come down to this, I knew it would eventually. Unfortunately for YOU, who have missed the mark, which means you are going to hell. Your portion will be in the lake of fire. Don’t be offended at me, it’s your preacher, or that radio personality, even that man that told you that you are saved, blame them. Then again when your screaming in the pit it really doesn’t matter whose at fault, does it. For it is your responsibility to know the way of salvation.
    Why? You ask. Simply, you trusted man to lead you to Christ. Not once have you asked Jesus if you are saved. If you did you never waited for an answer. There is only one that we should ask on how to be saved, that is Christ Jesus.
    Jesus has made it easy for you to know where you will stand on the last day. Pray this Prayer, and Jesus will answer all who diligently seeks Him.
    These are the last days, This is your last chance.
    Pray the Prayer, and KNOW!
    – A PRAYER FROM JESUS –
    This prayer is from Jesus that we may hear from Him, that He may speak to our hearts. It only consist of three simple steps.
    1) We need to read one scripture. This will focus us in the word that brings everlasting life.
    2) Since this prayer is from Jesus we need to direct our prayer to Him personally. Too often Christian focuses they’re prayer’s to G_D the father. Scripture proclaims that Jesus should be the focus of our prayer.
    3) The simplest part of this Prayer is to ask Jesus one question. Please, all that is required for this question is that it should be simple. Let Jesus Himself finish the question when He gives you that understanding through this prayer.
    The PRAYER
    The scripture that is the focus of this prayer is “ACTS 2:38″. It’s not necessary to do any study into this scripture. Jesus Himself will give you the understanding that will resonate in your heart. Just read Acts 2:38, keep it in your heart and take this one scripture to prayer
    The most important part of this prayer is that we need to direct our prayer directly to Jesus. If you normally would say Father in your prayer, change your focus from the Father to Christ Jesus, by lifting Jesus name up every time you would normally use Father in your prayer.
    Maybe the hardest part of this prayer is the question that we need to ask Jesus. For man as we are, always trying to understand the question instead of listening to the answer. The simplest question is all that is required.
    Simply ask Jesus ‘WHY’
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  • Rose Birenge

    Hi Mark,
    Thanks for your commentary. Very insightful. I have shared with my friends with whom we created a play last month called A Christmas Carol after Dickens’ Classic and was acted by children. We want to spread the news that Christmas is about giving to those around us who are less privileged.
    Rose

  • http://delentothis.info/blog.beliefnet.com/ blog.beliefnet.com

    Ebenezer scrooge the meaning of the name.. Great! :)

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Wesley Howell

    The name Ebenezer was a “virtue” name often given by puritan parents in the 17th and 18th centuries. Girl’s virtue names were Hope, Faith, Joy ect. (One unfortunate girl in New England was named Fly-Fornication) Puritan families did not celebrate Christmas well into the 19th century. Dicken’s contemporary readers would have recognized the name and it’s connection.

  • http://www.scotsman.com/news/revealed-the-scot-who-inspired-dickens-scrooge-1-571985 Fredric Dennis Williams

    In reading about the burial place of Adam Smith, I came across something on Ebenezer Scrooge — and looking for more, came to your website.

    You have an interesting explanation. Here is what I found in a discussion of the graveyard (the citation above is the original source, this is from a Wikipedia article on Canongate Kirkyard):

    “In his diaries, Charles Dickens states that his celebrated fictional character Ebenezer Scrooge stems from a grave marker which he saw in 1841, while taking an evening walk in the Canongate Kirkyard. The headstone was for the vintner Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie, a relative of Adam Smith, who had won the catering contract for the visit of George IV to Edinburgh and the first contract to supply whisky to the Royal Navy. The marker identified Scroggie as a “meal man” (corn merchant), but Dickens misread this as “mean man”, due to the fading light and his mild dyslexia. Dickens wrote that it must have “shrivelled” Scroggie’s soul to carry “such a terrible thing to eternity”. The grave marker was lost during construction work at part of the kirkyard in 1932.”

  • http://jalan@ajso.com Jalan

    Jews don’t need to come to ‘Christ’, they just need to realise Yeshua HaMashiach is the promised Son of David!

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