French fries, at least in the US, seem to have been first named "Potatoes, fried in the French Manner," which is how Thomas Jefferson described a dish he brought over to the colonies in the late 1700's. Presumably, he brought over the method, and not an actual plate or two, as they would have become rather soggy and possibly rancid on the 5-to-8-week Atlantic crossing. He served this to guests at Monticello and it became popular, serious dinner fare.
The Oxford Dictionary of the English Language (OED), normally a wonderful research tool, is of little help in researching the origins of this fried potato dish. Under the heading 'French Fries' there is nothing but a reference to the heading, 'Chips,' which is what the British call French fries. The OED makes first mention of them in an 1857 quote from Dickens about a plate of potato sticks cooked in oil. There are also a couple of references to the late 1800's and some quote from an American magazine from the 1950's, but these are of little value to the French fry historian, other than a possible etymological study.
20 Things You May Not Know About French Fries:
1. Nobody knows what to call them. Americans say 'French fries,' but they're not really French.
2. The French call them pommes frites (pawm-fritt), but that means 'apples, fried.'
3. Pomme de terre is French for potato. A pomme (pawm) is an apple. So a pomme-de-terre (pawm-doo-tair) is an 'apple of the dirt.'
4. Germans call French Fries pommes (paw-mess) and spell it 'pommes frites' like the French.
5. Apfel (ahp-fell) is German for apple.
6. Germans call a potato a kartoffel, except some who call it an erd-apfel (aird-ahp-fel), which is 'dirt-apple,' which is what the French call potatoes, too.
7. In America, French fries are usually eaten with the fingers; in Europe, they are usually eaten with a miniature, two-tine fork.
8. French Fries are vegetables.
9. So is ketchup, because it's made of tomatoes.
10. When you smother French Fries with ketchup and eat it all, you've probably eaten two servings of vegetables, about one-third of the US Recommended Daily (nutritional) Allowance.
11. A small order of French fries at McDonald's weighs less than four ounces (112g).
12. One small order of French fries at McDonald's is not enough.
13. French Fries are the number two 'drunk food' - what people eat when they've had too much to drink.
14. Pizza is number one.
15. French fries don't taste very good when baked on a pizza.
16. Frozen French fries which you buy in a store have already been partially cooked.
17. You still have to cook them some more at home.
18. French fries are a more American food than apple pie and hot dogs, which are both German.
19. Even though they call French fries 'chips' in England, if you ask for French fries, they'll know what you're talking about. Probably.
20. You won't get your French fries served in yesterday's newspaper in England anymore. They made a law against it.