What's in a name? Three midsize midwestern banks think there's something to be said for sticking with the family moniker.

Mercantile Bancorp. of St Louis, Fifth Third Bancorp of Cincinnati, and Huntington Bancshares of Columbus, Ohio, have all opted to leverage their banks' brand identities with their mutual fund families.

Many bank proprietary funds were named amid regulatory concerns that using the bank's name could lead unsophisticated investors to believe their portfolios were FDIC-insured.

However, in 1992 the former NationsBank Corp., now Bank-America, broke the mold by naming its fund family NationsFunds. And other banks have followed suit.

It makes sense to leverage the cache your bank has built in its region, said Richard W. Stenberg, a director at Huntington Bancshares.

Mr. Stenberg captains the $2.9 billion-asset Huntington Funds, which until recently were known as the Monitor Funds.

"Huntington has 133 years of history as a provider of financial services," Mr. Stenberg said. The Monitor Funds were launched in 1987.

"A lot of us felt like the old name never caught on and cemented itself in people's mind-sets as being a product of Huntington," said Elizabeth C. Markwood, a product manager in the investment services division.

Mercantile is about to stamp its corporate brand name on its $3.5 billion Arch Fund family.

"We recognized that we can't spend as much promoting the name 'Arch' as we can the Mercantile name," said Gail H. Partain, president of Mercantile's investment unit. "All the programs for Mercantile (Bank) will build a name for Mercantile Funds."

And since the name 'Arch' is based on a St. Louis landmark, Ms. Partain said, it is not as readily identifiable to investors outside Missouri.

Fifth Third's fund family, now known simply as the Fifth Third Funds, had also been named for a local landmark.

Until late last year, the $4.7 billion mutual fund family was known as the Fountain Square Funds.

It was felt there was more to be gained leveraging the Fifth Third name, said Scott N. Degerberg, a bank vice president.

"It's an opportunity to have the fund family more closely affiliated with the investment adviser," he said. That name recognition paid off recently, when Fifth Third placed sixth among fund managers in a Barron's survey, he said.

But keeping the fund name in the family is not for everyone.

Banking companies like Mellon Bank Corp., Pittsburgh, have bought both asset muscle and brand identity in their bid to take on the heavyweights like Fidelity Investments.

Mellon, which bought Dreyfus Corp. in 1994, has not only maintained and nurtured the Dreyfus name but also stamped it on all its investment businesses.

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