|Until World War II, you could make an educated guess about a person's original home in Virginia by observing their distinctive accents, food preferences, and other patterns of behavior. Today, bagels and Chinese take-out are common in Martinsville as well as Arlington, NASCAR is popular in Warrenton as well as Emporia, and Sunday afternoon football is watched in Grundy as well as Virginia Beach.
Still, there are differences between places and people in Virginia today. If you're in a Hardee's in South Boston, notice the iced tea - odds are, it will be sweetened, unlike the iced tea in the Hardee's at Fredericksburg. Manassas students debate whether the University of Virginia can beat Virginia Tech in football this year - but Danville students may follow the athletic successes of competing schools in North Carolina. There are excellent Japanese restaurants in Roanoke and Garrison Keillor has presented Prairie Home Companion shows in the Roanoke coliseum, but a Middleburg or McLean address will still carry far more social cachet - except in the West End of Richmond, where your family name may carry more weight than even your bank account.
If you have a nostalgic, First Family of Virginia (FFV) perspective, you can say there's Northern Virginia and then there's "real Virginia." Typically, folks drawing this line are long-term residents who make humorous references to Northern Virginia as an alien entity, "occupied" by Northerners and by people with no family ties to Virginia since Arlington was incorporated into the District of Columbia over two centuries ago.
If you're not traditional about defining the regions of Virginia, you can can segment Virginia into many, smaller cultural regions. For example, the region of Hampton Roads can be split into the Eastern Shore, Gloucester, North Hampton Roads, and South Hampton Roads. Keep splitting, and North Hampton Roads could be split into Williamsburg/York County, Newport News, and Hampton. (Poquoson might appreciate being omitted...) Based on political patterns, South Hampton Roads could be divided into Suffolk/Sussex/Chesapeake, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach.
If you're doing direct mail advertising, you'll use Zip Codes to split down further, all the way to distinct neighborhoods. If you're a politician, you'll split down to precincts - remember, all politics is local. And if you're a Census enumerator, you'll try to find every single person in your Census block.
The boundaries of these regions of Virginia are permeable to migration of people and information. The boundaries shown on the map above are poorly-defined, subject to debate, and likely to be outdated within a few decades. Loudoun and Prince William became part of Northern Virginia long after Alexandria and Arlington, and Fauquier is not yet included in most references. It's not clear if Stafford/Fredericksburg will be added to Northern Virginia, or if the megalopolis will have distict sub-regions. In a decade, cars soth of Quantico might sport FXBG stickers to identify more with Fredericksburg than with Fairfax/DC.
Northern Virginia - 1895
Even Virginia's political boundaries have been subject to change. The colonial claims to the Forks of the Ohio (Pittsburgh area) were dropped in the 1760's. The Commonwealth of Virginia claims to the Northwest Territory (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois...) were relinquished in the 1780's. Kentucky became a separate state in the 1790's, and in the 1860's the western 33 counties of Virginia split off to become West Virginia.
Proposals for creating a separate State of Northern Virginia are just a joke today... but maybe tomorrow sectionalism will spur another secession movement?
How should we draw the lines of the sections of Virginia, especially on a map? Well, there's always the physical geography to consider. Virginia's regions reflect transportation and population patterns established during the colonial era and prior to the Civil War. As the physical geography shaped those patterns, it created the modern regions of Virginia.
Outer Continental Shelf
NOTE: Did you know that George Washington considered the possibility that the United States would collapse, and split between the northern and southern states? If that had occurred, Washington planned to join the northern region...2