Sovran Financial Corp., Virginia's largest bank holding company, reported its third-quarter profits rose 16.9 percent, to $24.7 million (93 cents per share), up from $21.1 million (81 cents) in the same period last year.

For the first nine months of this year, net income totaled $68.2 million ($2.56) versus $59 million ($2.30) a year earlier.

Chairman C. A. Cutchins III attributed the increase to a growth in commercial and consumer loans, as well as fee income and trust activities. Loans totaled $6.2 billion at the end of September, compared with $5.1 billion in the same month of 1984, a rise of 22.4 percent. Total assets amounted to $8.9 billion at the end of the period, up from $7.5 billion a year earlier.

All growth was generated internally. Sovran has, however, announced a series of mergers. Its acquisition of Virginia Southern Bank of Clarksville, with assets of $51 million, is due to be completed by year's end. Its merger with Suburban Bancorp of Bethesda, which has assets of $3.3 billion, is scheduled for the first quarter of 1986. And its merger with D.C. National Bancorp in the District awaits final approval of the interstate banking law. D.C. National has assets of $395 million.

Suburban Bancorp, the Bethesda bank holding company, said earnings increased 23 percent in the third quarter, largely on the strength of growth in its loan portfolio and favorable interest rates.

Net income for the three months ended Sept. 30 amounted to $8.5 million ($1.58 per share), compared to $6.9 million ($1.38) for the same period a year ago, the company said. Net income for the year to date increased 39 percent from $19.2 million ($3.94) to $26.7 million ($4.96).

As of Sept. 30, the company said, total assets stood at $3.3 billion, up 23 percent from the previous year, and deposits totaled $2.4 billion, a 21 percent increase.

As previously reported, Suburban Bancorp. announced last month a merger with Sovran Financial Corp., an $8.7 billion banking organization in Norfolk, pending approval by shareholders and regulatory authorities.

First American Bank of Maryland yesterday announced third-quarter earnings of $1.097 million ($1.10 per share), an increase of 6.3 percent from the $1.032 million ($1.04) reported in the same quarter last year.

Nine months profits amounted to $3.2 million ($3.27 per share), and an increase of 14.1 percent over third-quarter 1984 net income of $2.8 million ($2.87).

As of Sept. 30, assets totaled $657.1 million, up 38 percent over the previous year. Loans increased by 35.8 percent in the period to $375.2 million. Provisions for loan losses were increased from $778,000 to $1.8 million to bring the bank up to the level of its peers and to increase its primary capital.

The bank, with 30 offices in Maryland, is owned by First American Bankshares Inc. which has assets of $5.3 billion.

Buoyed by increased revenues across the board, profits rose 11 percent during the third quarter at Gannett Co., while operating revenue increased 16 percent, the media firm announced.

The company said net income totaled $60.7 million (76 cents per share) in the third quarter, compared to $54.9 million (69 cents) in the previous year. Operating revenue stood at $550.3 million, up from $473.2 million.

The company said USA Today, with average daily circulation of more than 1.4 million, produced its highest revenues ever in the three months ended Sept. 29, though a spokesman said the exact figures were not available.

For the year to date, Gannett's net income totaled $173.8 million ($2.17), up from $149.4 million ($1.87), the company said.

Ethyl Corp. of Richmond reported a slight increase in net income over the third quarter, while earnings per share rocketed as a result of reductions in the average number of shares outstanding.

Net income for the third quarter of the 1985 totaled $35.1 million (55 cents per share), compared to $33.5 million (43 cents) for the same period in 1984. However, the 1984 results included a net after-tax charge of approximately $2 million for two special items.

The company recorded a deferred income tax credit of about $30 million in 1984, though this was offset by a $32 million charge to cover the expected impact of recent Environmental Protection Agency restrictions on tetraethyls, a lead compound mixed into gasoline to prevent engine knocks.

The company, once the country's leading producer of tetraethyls, has been diversifying.