How did Frying Pan Road get its name?

The disappointing lack of imagination in today’s suburban street names (Babbling Brook Lane, anyone?) makes Frying Pan Road in Herndon, Va., a bit of an oddity. The name evokes both a longing for a bacon and a nostalgia for days when street names signified a history richer than the last name of the subdivision developer.

In my search for the origins of Frying Pan Road’s unusual name, I found that there’s not an exact answer because the name may predate written records in the area. The guesses, however, are fascinating.

First, the entire community surrounding the road used to be known as Frying Pan. (It is now called Floris.) Elaine McHale, librarian at the Fairfax County Public Library, says there are two creation stories behind the Frying Pan name.

“The first is that a group of people were camped by the water, and in their haste to leave the next morning, they left their frying pan behind,” McHale wrote by email. “Depending on when the story is told, the ‘group of people’ were American soldiers from the War of 1812, copper miners from 1728, or Indians even before that.”

Another theory is rooted in geography. “The second story is that the shape of the run emptying into a round pool suggested the name,” McHale wrote, but it’s not clear which pool this story references.

Here’s where things get interesting: The name Frying Pan first pops up in Virginia records in a 1728 deed from Lord Fairfax himself, when a man named Robert “King” Carter bought the land to build a copper mine. So, although “some stories have it that these miners were the ones to leave their frying pan behind,” McHale says the miners can’t have been the ones to name the area because the name was already in use before they got there.

According to Yvonne Johnson, manager of Frying Pan Farm Park, the area of Frying Pan, Va. retained its name until 1892. That year, the community petitioned the postal service to change its name. “The postal service sent them several names to choose from and they selected Floris,” Johnson wrote in an email.

Though its origins remain an unsolved mystery, Frying Pan Road is a genius of a name that will hopefully continue to bewilder casual map enthusiasts and passengers on their way to Dulles for another three hundred years.


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