Most parts of Virginia have names that conjure up images of mountains or ocean: "Shenandoah," "Blue Ridge" and "Eastern Shore."

But not Fauquier, Rappahannock, Madison, Culpeper and Orange counties, which lie an hour or so southwest of Washington.

They're part of "Planning District 9."

Fed up with their overlooked status, and hoping to share the spoils of Virginia's second-largest industry, tourism, the counties are developing their own snappy marketing name and image.

Goodbye, Planning District 9; hello, "Foothills of the Blue Ridge."

Even without special marketing efforts, this five-county region of small cities, horse farms and country inns netted $34 million in tourist revenue in 1985, the latest year for which statistics are available, according to the Virginia Division of Tourism.

That's far short of the $204.6 million brought in by the City of Alexandria that year, but near the $37.4 million gained by Fairfax County, state tourism officials said.

"If that amount was brought in with no promotion, think of what promotion could do," gushed Nancy Thomasson, a town council member from Rappahannock County.

Also, there's the possibility of cashing in on Northern Virginia's explosive growth by luring away some weekender and convention business from places such as Tysons Corner.

"Rather than have corporate executives sit in a smoke-filled room 20 stories off the ground in D.C. and Fairfax, they could make this a retreat -- that's the kind of thing we could accommodate," said Bill Strider, executive director of the Shenandoah Planning District Commission.

The counties also hope they will benefit from what tourism officials say is the new trend of two-career families taking long weekend trips, rather than one- and two-week vacations.

"What we've tried to do is to let people know that we really are a destination, that our suburban friends in Washington, Baltimore and Richmond can have a really-get-away-from-it-all experience with maybe only an hour or an hour-and-a-half drive," said Dory Twitchell, assistant director at Montpelier in Orange County.

Some, such as Madison County Supervisor Polly Powell, also hope that a successful tourist business will forestall the need to increase tax revenue by inviting the heavy commercial development that she believes has ravaged parts of nearby Northern Virginia.

"I think our idea is to bring money into the counties without that kind of growth," Thomasson agreed.

Private grass-roots efforts to promote tourism in this north-central Virginia region began about 1 1/2 years ago.

The first order of business was to form a tourism association composed of citizen representatives from the participating counties, and to develop an identity.

These counties weren't really part of Northern Virginia, nor were they in the mountains. They weren't overwhelmed with development, like Fairfax County, nor were they as remote as, say, Bath County, Va., which has no traffic lights.

They had horse farms and wineries, country inns and historic sites. Tourists mostly zipped through them on the way to Charlottesville and Fredericksburg, Harrisonburg and Skyline Drive.

"We toyed with 'The Piedmont,' but not everybody is in the piedmont," Twitchell said.

Someone suggested "The Foothills of the Blue Ridge," but that seemed too much of a mouthful, she said.

So, the group settled on "Foothills" for the name of the travel association, figuring that people would be smart enough to know the foothills of what.

But they agreed to market the area as "Foothills of the Blue Ridge."

"Nothing's perfect, but I like it a lot," said Philip Harway, a Warrenton businessman, association member and head of the Fauquier County Chamber of Commerce's travel and tourism committee.

"It has a charming sound to it, that's for sure," said David Zunker, editorial services manager for the Virginia Division of Tourism.

"I think that sounds pretty good," said C. Holt Maloney, president of the Virginia Travel Council, a private statewide promotional group.

The Foothills association also developed its own marketing slogan: "Splendor for All Seasons."

Members hoped the slogan would spark people to think about counties such as Rappahannock and Fauquier aside from deer season.

And it solicited $2,000 in contributions from well-wishers and local county governments, which was used to print 100,000 brochures.

"We knew it wouldn't be a real fancy color glossy job, but just something to promote the five counties," Strider said.

No one yet knows whether the promotion will work, but everyone has hope. "We're just waiting to see," said Madison County's Powell.

A role model is the Virginia peninsula, that 25-mile-long sliver of land that includes the cities of Hampton, Newport News and Poquoson.

It has outgrown its original promotional slogan of "We're in the Middle of Everything," and now markets itself as "Virginia's New Vacationland," said Lee Ann Sink, acting director of the Virginia Peninsula Tourism and Conference Bureau.

Peninsula tourist revenue has grown from $89 million in 1981 to $190 million in 1986, the latest date for which statistics are available, Sink said.

The Foothills Travel Association is also trying to promote itself at a time when Virginia tourism is booming, despite a slight lag last summer that tourism officials have blamed on hotter-than-ordinary temperatures.

Virginia travel revenue jumped from $2.57 million in 1977 to $6.1 in 1986, the last year for which statistics are available, according to the U.S. Travel Data Center.

Statistics indicate that most summer visitors to the state, or 10.4 percent, come from Pennsylvania, followed by 8.8 percemt from New York; 8.3 percent from Virginia; 6.3 percent from North Carolina; 6.3 percent from Ohio, and 4.2 percent from California.

This spring, Virginia tourism officials will begin advertising the beauties of the Blue Ridge, the Shenandoah and, now, the Foothills, in newspapers as far away as Toronto and Cleveland, said the tourism division's Zunker.

"We're also taking a look at markets like Chicago, because there's that whole {interstate} 64 thing opening up through the West Virginia area, and people will be able to drive here from the Midwest very easily."