Phoroneus was the son of Inachus, the river god, and Melia (or else Argia). He was the founder of Argos, which he called Phoronea. According to Apollodorus he was the first man, while Pausanias describes him as building an elemental society and providing its members with fire, the products of the earth, and social institutions.

With this background, we can propose a derivation for him from phero, 'to feed', with perhaps the latter half of his name being based on onesis, 'profit'.