In the Census-Designated Place of “West Falls Church,” there are no town centers, no major landmarks, or no prominent geographic features, and the Metro station of the same name is 3 miles away. So what should we call it instead?

West Falls Church and surrounding communities. Map from the Fairfax County Department of Communities and Neighborhood Services.

The challenge with renaming West Falls Church is that the area is best described as what it isn’t. It isn’t Seven Corners, Merrifield, Dunn Loring, Tysons Corner, Baileys Crossroads or Annandale. These places are all Census-Designated Places (CDPs) whose names are well known, and residents and non-residents alike would have some sense of the general location of each one.

If it were just used for census reporting purposes, the name West Falls Church wouldn’t matter very much. But, the Census Bureau’s own edict is for CDP names to be meaningful. And as residents and visitors have grown to rely on sites like Google Maps and Wikipedia for wayfinding and information, West Falls Church’s online presence is more worrisome.

Perhaps this is an opportunity to create a name that would evoke some sense of place for the area, and could become as well-known as Tysons Corner. So, it looks like we have five years until the next census to come up with a better name and convince the stakeholders.

South Falls Church

If, as Fairfax County officials suggested, my fellow residents did want the words “Falls Church” in the name of the CDP, then the only logical (and geographically correct) name would be South Falls Church.  This name certainly has some historical precedence, according to Wikipedia:

Following the Civil War, local African-Americans established prosperous communities in an area then called South Falls Church, along Tinner’s Hill and elsewhere…. A local setback for blacks occurred, however, in 1887 when white Falls Church residents successfully gerrymandered heavily black South Falls Church out of the town limits. This was never reversed, and caused the boundary of the future City of Falls Church to follow South Washington Street.

“South Falls Church” violates the Census Bureau’s policy of prohibiting of “cardinal direction + adjacent town name” because it is not currently in “local use.” However, it has historical precedence and significance, and is geographically correct!  And, we have five years to bring it in to local use!

West Falls Church

I would like to immediately rule out “West Falls Church.”  In addition to the geographical inaccuracy of the name, it does not meet the Census Bureau’s criteria. There are no landscape features, schools or signs that use this name. I was able to find one retail center (and a dental practice there) that uses the name.  But, if you asked residents of my CDP, “Where is West Falls Church?” the answers would, almost without exception, direct you to or near the West Falls Church Metro station.

Jefferson

In my fourteen years here, no resident that I’ve met has ever identified this entire area as “Jefferson,” but unlike “West Falls Church,” it doesn’t cause confusion and there’s no geographical ambiguity.  “Jefferson” is used throughout the CDP, in the Jefferson Village neighborhood, shopping center, and park, as well as Jefferson Fire Station, Thomas Jefferson Library and Jefferson Avenue.

JV’s Restaurant, the most famous bar/restaurant/honky-tonk in the CDP (and, I would argue, in the entire Metro DC region), is an abbreviation of Jefferson Village as well. Evidently, most of the establishments in the Jefferson Village Shopping Center were named Jefferson, such as the Jefferson Theatre, pictured here in 1949 (notice JV’s Restaurant immediately to the left of the theatre):

Photo by jbb23927 on Flickr.

In Fairfax County’s Comprehensive Plan, the CDP area is part of the Jefferson Planning District, although the planning district also includes the Idylwood CDP and parts of other CDPs (see Map 3). In the Comprehensive Plan, there is also a Jefferson Village Conservation Plan for an apartment complex located near Arlington Boulevard and Graham Road.

The Jefferson Planning District, with dotted line added to show West Falls Church’s boundaries. Image from the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan.

Lastly, I’ve seen references to the use of “JEfferson” as the telephone exchange name for local numbers, back when this was in fashion.  Several exchanges in the eastern part of the CDP do begin with 53x (where the “53” can be translated to “JE” on a telephone dial).

How to change the name

Whether “South Falls Church” or another name is selected, Fairfax County could make some very simple changes to help give us a sense of place. The Thomas Jefferson Library, Mosby post office, and Jefferson fire station could all get the new name. We could add signs marking the entrance to the area on Arlington Boulevard, at the intersection of Graham Road and Lee Highway, and on Annandale Road. We could encourage businesses to adopt the name, and create South Falls Church (or whatever name) citizens’ and business associations. Finally, we could simply encourage local residents to begin using the name.

What name do you think would be best?

Roger Wilson has been a resident of the Falls Church area for 16 years. He is the Providence District representative for Fairfax County’s Trails and Sidewalks Committee. Roger is currently pursuing a Postbaccalaureate Certificate in Geographic Information Systems from Penn State.  And, he is a Captain in the Virginia Defense Force.