The longstaff is akin to the somewhat better known weapon, the shortstaff. The shortstaff eventually became known as the quarterstaff. It was a weapon that could vary in length from 6 feet to 9 feet. The longstaff, however, was approximately twelve feet in length. It could be a simple shaft of wood, a shaft of polished wood, or an ornate, symbolic weapon (as in the image to the left).

The English surname Longstaff and its variants Longstaffe and Langstaff has two possible origins. The first, and most likely, is that the name is of occupational origin. Occupational surnames were a simple way of identifying people through the various skills and trades that they practiced, for example baker, carpenter, cooper, miller, smith, weaver, and a myriad of other occupations. In our case the name is derived from a badge of office as it was a very popular practice to name someone after a weapon or other badge of office, i.e,, Shakespear and Wagstaff.

This evolved into an hereditary system of surnames to identify people, especially since most men (and women) continued to practice the vocations of their parents. The name began as a functional appellation and then became a formal means of identification. In our case the original bearer would have been a tipstaff, sergeant, bailiff or other officer of the law who carried a long staff as a badge of office.

Second, the surname might be of nickname origin. A person who had some obvious trait could be identified as such, and so be named accordingly. An individual of dark complexion could be identified by different names, meaning black, brown, etc. One who was short might be identified as small and one who was tall as long, though in certain circumstances the opposite could apply - some members of our family, because many of us are of short stature, have been called "shortstaff."

Early records of the surname Longstaff or a variant date to the late 13th century when William Longstaf of Norfolk appears in the Hundred Rolls of 1273AD. The Hundred Rolls, until the 19th century, was a unit of English Government detailing citizens of a given area. This system of local legal jurisdiction was introduced by King Edmund I (939-946AD). Later references include the marriage of John Longstaff and Elizabeth Blowe at St. James, Clerkenwell in 1660 and more recently, Barbara Longstaff married William Pricklowe at St. Georges, Hanover Square in 1748.

Longstaff is not an unusual surname. A search of the Internet will yield scores of sites devoted to Longstaffs in business, education, science, politics and more.

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This page last updated on 16 March 2003