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Last Updated: 5/11/2014

Coat of Arms of the Tallow Chandlers’ Company
incorporated in London on 8th March 1461/2

Reproduced with permission of the Company

Coat of Arms of the Tallow Chandlers' Company incorpated in London on 8th March 1461/2

Origins of the Chandler Surname

"How far that little candle throws his beams,
So shines a good deed in a naughty world."
'The Merchant of Venice' Act V Scene 1
William Shakespeare

Most people born with the surname Chandler in modern times are descended, in the male line, from men in England whose occupation was a chandler, who made and sold candles. Until about 1350, surnames were only used by the wealthy, and were usually inherited by only the eldest son, along with the family property. The poor – most people at that time – had no need for a surname because they had no land to inherit. It was during the years 1350 to 1450 that the use of hereditary surnames became common throughout the English population. This naming - often by trade (e.g. Baker, Smith, Chandler), sometimes by location (e.g. Hill, Marsh), occasionally by appearance (e.g. Long, Small) – would have happened village by village throughout England. Consequently, most of the people acquiring the surname Chandler in this way would not have been related to each other – they would only have been occupied in the same trade.

Candles – of vital importance in an age without electricity - were made either of wax (for churches) or tallow (for general use). Tallow is obtained from suet (the solid fat of animals such as sheep and cows), and is also used in making soap and lubricants. The Tallow Chandlers, like many other tradesmen, formed a guild in London in or around 1300 for educational, promotional and charitable purposes. Their corporate Coat of Arms – formally granted by the College of Arms in 1456 – is reproduced above with the Company’s permission. There are two crests at the top. Both are chargers (serving plates), each bearing the head of John the Baptist, the patron saint of the Tallow Chandlers. The repetition of the image is intended to emphasise the fact that John was made a Saint on account of his beheading. The angels are crowned with stars as a token of light, a tallow chandlers’ “product”. At the foot of the Arms is the motto Ecce agnus dei qui tollit peccata mundi - 'Behold the lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world' (John 1:29). This replaces the Tallow Chandlers' earlier motto Quae arguuntur a lumine manifestantur which can be translated as 'Things which are in dispute are made clear by the light', again referring to the vital light produced by a chandler’s candles.

The Tallow Chandlers also dealt in vinegar, salt, sauces and oils. Later, the term “chandler” was used for corn chandlers, and for ships' chandlers who sold most of the fittings and supplies for boats, as well as the candles. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the term "chandler" was often used simply to mean a grocer.

A small minority of people born with the Chandler surname may descend from followers of William, Duke of Normandy, who ruled England from 1066 to 1087 – bearing names like Reginald le Chandeler, who appears in a survey of London conducted in 1273. The origin of the name is the same – the French for candle being chandelle.

A great many probable variations of the Chandler surname have been observed, including Chandelar, Chandeler, Chandeleur, Chandelor, Chander, Chanders, Chandlar, Chandlen, Chandlers, Chandles, Chandless, Chandley, Chandly, Chandor, Chanelar, Chaneler, Chaneley, Channeller, Chanelor, Chanler, Chanley, Channellor, Channiler, Chansler, Chantler, Chantller, Chaundflower (probably a mistranscription/mistranslation of Chaundeleur i.e. Chaundeleur becomes Chaundfleur becomes Chaundflower), Chandeler, Chaundler, Chaundeleur and Chauntler.

Although its origins are probably the same as Chandler, the surname Candler is phonetically sufficiently distinct to be considered deliberately different, and therefore to be treated as a separate surname rather than a variant of Chandler.