Chandler Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Chandler Surname Meaning

Chandler is an occupational name for a maker or seller of candles, derived from the Old French chandelier. It was first recorded as a surname, Matthew le Candeler, in the latter half of the 13th century.

Candle and Chandler, it is thought, reflect different pronunciations within the French that came to England – the hard “c” in candle reflecting the northern French spoken by the Normans and the soft “ch” in chandler reflecting more standard central French perhaps employed by scribes.

Candles were of vital importance in the medieval world in an age without electricity.  They were made either of wax for churches or of tallow for general use.  The Tallow Chandlers had formed a guild in London by 1300.

Chandler Surname Resources on The Internet

Chandler Surname Ancestry

  • from Southern England
  • to America, Canadsa and Australia

England.  Some Chandlers descend from the one of more le Chaundelers who came to England around the year 1200.  But most are descendants of people who gained their surname because they were candle makers.

This French-originating name only really spread to southern England – and mainly to London and the southeast with a cluster further west in Gloucestershire.

Chandlers in Bishop Stortford in Hertfordshire have been traced back to 1521.  Walter Chandler was a wealthy textile merchant in Winchester in the early 1500’s.  His grandson George came to London in the 1590’s as a draper.  Thomas Chandler was born in Oare, Wiltshire in 1570.

William Chandler was born near Lewes in Sussex in 1742, as was his probable brother Edward twelve years later.  Edward’s grandson Edward in old age took his own life in 1869.  By that time a number of the next generation had departed for Australia, Canada, and America.

Chandlers were landowners at Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire.  The name Nathaniel Chandler featured prominently. Nathaniel Chandler was organist at Tewkesbury Abbey in the early 1800’s and a later Nathaniel Chandler was mayor of the town from 1849 to 1852. There was also a long line of Chandlers from the village of Painswick near Stroud.

America.  At the age of 10 John Chandler sailed from England on the Hercules and landed in 1610 at what became known as Jamestown.  He was later described as “an ancient planter,” one who had arrived in the colony before 1616.  There are now thousands of people who trace their ancestry back to that John Chandler, mainly in the South.

New England.  Early settlers in New England were:

  • Edmund Chandler, a member of the Pilgrim congregation who had migrated from Leiden in Holland to Duxbury, Massachusetts in 1633 a few years after the main group.
  • and William and Annis Chandler from Hertfordshire who settled in Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1637.

Thomas Chandler came from Roxbury and was one of the first settlers of Bedford, New Hampshire in the 1740’s (a room from his house has been preserved at the Winterthur museum in Delaware).  Two of his sons, John and Thomas, were politicians in Massachusetts and New Hampshire respectively; a grandson Zachariah became the four-time Senator for Michigan between 1857 and 1879.

John Chandler meanwhile was an early settler in Concord, New Hampshire.  William Chandler, born there in 1835, was a Senator for New Hampshire and US Secretary of the Navy.

Heading West.  Harry Chandler was born in Landaff, New Hampshire in 1864.  He headed west to California while still a young lad.  There he prospered as a real estate speculator in Los Angeles and was an early driving force of the city.

In 1917 Harry took over the reins of the Los Angeles Times, soon transforming it into the leading newspaper in the West.  Son Norman and grandson Otis continued at the helm until 1980.  The family story was recounted in Dennis McDougall’s 2001 book Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the LA Times Dynasty.  

Canada.  Colonel Joshua Chandler had been a member of the Connecticut legislature and a relatively wealthy man before joining the Loyalist ranks and departing for Nova Scotia in 1783.  His grandson Edward was a New Brunswick politician considered one of the fathers of Canadian federation.

An earlier arrival from England had been Kenelm Chandler from a well-to-do family in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire.  He came to Quebec as a soldier in 1764 and settled as part of the early English landowning class there.

Australia.  Charles Chandler, a farm laborer from Middlesex, departed with his family for South Australia on the John Pirie in 1836.  Sadly his wife Elizabeth died on the voyage.  Charles lived until 1878 in Happy Valley.

Edward and Sarah Chandler from the Lewes area of Sussex were bounty emigrants on the Strathfieldsaye in 1839.  Edward found work as a shepherd outside Sydney.  Later the family were sheep farmers on their own land near Carcoar in the central west part of NSW.  Some descendants moved onto Queensland.  A Chandler family reunion was organized in 1997.

Chandler Surname Miscellany

Tallow Chandlers.  Candles in medieval times were made either of wax for churches or of tallow for general use.  Tallow was obtained from suet, the solid fat of animals such as sheep and cows, and was also used in making soap and lubricants.

The tallow chandlers, like many other tradesmen, formed their own guild in London.  It was established in or around 1300.  Its corporate Coat of Arms was formally granted in 1456.

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. 

The Chandler Name in England.  The Chandler name only really spread to southern England – and mainly to London and the southeast with a cluster further west in Gloucestershire.

Chandlers in the 1891 Census Numbers (000’s)  Percent
London   2.4   23
SE England   2.6   25
Gloucestershire   0.7    6
Elsewhere   4.7   46
Total  10.4  100

Walter Chandler of Winchester.  Walter Chandler was made a freeman of Winchester in 1506. A mercer with some interest in wool, he was to figure more prominently in the civic affairs of Winchester than his father had done.  Although Parliamentary returns for Winchester have been lost, other evidence suggests that he had been elected a member there in 1539, 1542, and 1545.

His position owed something to the support of Stephen Gardiner, the bishop of Winchester at that time.  Chandler prospered sufficiently to be able to acquire a number of properties in and around Winchester.  These included Abbot’s Barton which he purchased in 1540 and it became his seat.

He was described by one contemporary as a “very crafty fellow.”  In his dealings with Thomas Wriothesley on the Abbot’s Barton estate, he was examined by the Privy Council for slanderous remarks and was ordered to apologize to Wriothesley in Council.

He died in 1546 and his probate inventory gave indication of his wealth and status: a coat guarded with velvet; a doublet of velvet with satin sleeves and another of satin with velvet sleeves; a scarlet gown faced with foins; an old blue gown faced with foins and furred with coney; a gown of crimson lined with say; a black gown welted with tawny velvet and faced with satin; an old blue gown furred with fox; and a pair of new hose.

John Chandler of Jamestown, Virginia.  The earliest known Chandler to settle in America was immigrant John Chandler.  He had traveled with some thirty other settlers aboard the Hercules, the smallest of three ships in the expedition led by Sir Thomas West of Hampshire, Lord Delaware.  They landed at Jamestown on Sunday, June 10, 1610.

Fragmentary land records in Elizabeth City county suggest that John’s elder son, John II, was his son and heir.  However, this male line ended with John IV in 1728.

The Chandler descent goes via the younger son Robert.  They number in their thousands in the United States, perhaps a majority of them still residing in the South and Southwest of the country.

Colonel Joshua Chandler’s Sad End.  Colonel Joshua Chandler had been a member of the Connecticut legislature and a relatively wealthy man before joining the Loyalist ranks and departing for Nova Scotia in 1783.  His New Haven property was confiscated and it was said that he was driven into exile and died a broken man.

In fact he died four years later in 1787 when his ship went down on its way to St. Johns, New Brunswick. W.C Milner in his History of Sackville recounted that his son William, hoping to secure the vessel, fastened a rope around his body and jumped overboard to swim to land. But he was immediately crushed between the vessel and rocks and was drowned.

“That night Colonel Chandler, his daughter Elizabeth, and others on the vessel got ashore.  But they were miles from any dwelling and the weather was severe.  It was said that he urged his daughter to leave him and make her way to some house.  But she refused to do so. He then climbed a high point of the rocks for a look-out.  From that point, being so benumbed with cold, he fell and soon died. The others, after wandering about in the woods, also perished.  Their bodies were found and carried to St. John and buried in the old burying ground.”

One of Joshua Chandler’s sons, Samuel, took an active part in the public life of Nova Scotia.  And two of his daughters married into influential New Brunswick families.

Harry Chandler’s Family and Early Life.  Harry Chandler, born in Landaff, New Hampshire in 1864, could trace his line back to William and Annis Chandler, immigrants to Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1637.

Many generations later, Ezra Chandler moved his family northwards to what were then the wilderness areas of Vermont and New Hampshire.  They came to Landaff, New Hampshire soon after it was first settled and chose a farm about a mile out of town.  Ezra was the first bricklayer in Landaff.  He died there in 1842 and was buried at the Landaff cemetery at the top of the hill.

Harry and his family moved from Landaff to Lisbon, a larger town nearby, probably so that Harry could attend the high school there.  Harry later enrolled at Dartmouth College.

“Soon after his arrival at Dartmouth a classmate dared him to dive into a vat of starch that had frozen over in the first cold snap of the season.  Harry took the dare and soon was in bed with a high fever and a hacking cough.  This was followed by a hemorrhage of the lungs and his withdrawal from college.

Told by his doctor that only the warm and healthy climate of southern California would save him, he set off on the train for the long trip across the country.  Arriving tired, dirty, and almost penniless, he spent his first night in California in a cheap hotel and, hesitatingly, set off the next morning to try to decide what course of action he should follow.

Suddenly he stopped and stared unbelievingly into the display window of a photographer’s shop.  Staring back at him was his own portrait as a child.  As a small child, Chandler was so perfect in his features that he was often photographed as the ideal of an American boy.  The sight wrought a transformation.  It appeared an omen of good.”

So Harry stayed and prospered.  He started his newspaper career as a clerk in the circulation department of the Los Angeles Times in 1885 at the age of twenty one.

Chandler Names

  • Harry Chandler was one of the main developers of Los Angeles in the first half of the 20th century.
  • Happy Chandler was the Kentucky politician who became baseball’s commissioner in 1945.
  • Raymond Chandler was an American writer best known for his private detective Philip Marlowe.
  • Gene Chandler, known as “The Duke of Earl,” was an American R&B singer of the 1960’s.

Chandler Numbers Today

  • 18,000 in the UK (most numerous in Gloucestershire)
  • 28,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 12,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Chandler and Like Surnames   

The various medieval trades and occupations were a source of surnames as John the baker would over time would become known as John Baker.  Some skilled craftsmen – such as chandlers, fletchers and turners – were able to form guilds, protective organizations, and style themselves Worshipful Companies.  These are some of the occupational surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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