Every stock fund has a name and a style, but they don't necessarily have much to do with one another.

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This week's I Own What?! highlights a case in point. There are more than 90 stock funds with "growth and income" in their names and at least a one-year track record. Over the past year, however, almost a third of these funds have failed to pay a penny in dividends to shareholders, according to Chicago fund tracker Morningstar. This seems a bit like buying a vacuum cleaner, only to find that it's actually a snowblower.

You might be wondering how this sort of thing happens. The reasons are twofold: A fund's charter typically gives it plenty of leeway; meanwhile, companies just aren't paying dividends like they used to. Regulators are starting to require funds' names and strategies to be more than remotely related, but no matter what a fund's name promises, you can't assume it will deliver.

Of the 28 growth and income funds that haven't paid a dividend in the past 12 months, we've singled out the five biggest: the $1.8 billion (CFGAX) - Get Report Liberty Growth & Income fund, the $950 million (FGIRX) - Get Report Fidelity Advisor Growth & Income fund, the $808 million (SGRIX) Strong Growth & Income fund, the $710 million (EGIAX) Evergreen Growth & Income fund, and the $531 million (MGRIX) - Get Report Marsico Growth & Income fund.

Some of these folks are pretty upfront about the fund's income component -- or lack thereof. On the Marsico Growth & Income fund's Web page, you'll find that although at least a quarter of the fund's money is invested in "securities that have income potential," the fund isn't "designed to produce a consistent level of income."

Despite this disclosure, or because of it, you still might wonder why "Income" is in the fund's name if that's not a priority. The

(JAGIX) - Get Report

Janus Growth & Income fund paid dividends each year that Tom Marsico ran it from 1991 through August 1997 and it continues to do so under manager David Corkins, but the nearly 4-year-old Marsico Growth & Income fund hasn't done so, according to Morningstar.

Other growth-and-income funds are a bit less forthright about their lack of income. The Strong Growth & Income fund's Web page says it "invests primarily in companies that pay current dividends." The Evergreen Growth & Income fund's fact sheet pitches it for folks looking for "growth of capital and current income."

Neither fund has paid a dividend since 1998, according to Morningstar.

What's the big deal? The "growth and income" label connotes lower risk. Companies that pay dividends tend to be bigger and more stable than younger, smaller firms that sink all their earnings back into their business -- consider the difference between tech behemoth

IBM

and networking upstart

Ciena

.

Dividends and Stability

As you might imagine, funds that focus on dividend-paying companies don't tend to rocket north in go-go markets, but they do typically hold up better during a selloff. Consider that a portfolio of the 50 stocks in the

S&P 500

with the highest dividend yields rose 13.2% last year, compared with a 9.1% fall for the overall index, according to Merrill Lynch's quantitative research department.

John Snyder, manager of the

(SOVIX)

John Hancock Sovereign Investors fund, typically invests most of his shareholders' money in companies that have raised their dividends for at least 10 straight years. His fund gained only 5.9% in 1999, trailing the S&P 500 by about 15 percentage points, but owning giants like

Citigroup

and

Johnson & Johnson

has helped the fund beat the S&P 500 over the past one and three years.

While some of these non-income-paying funds have held up better than their peers over the past year, folks who bought the Strong Growth & Income fund hoping for a smoother ride thanks to quarterly dividends have been sorely disappointed. The fund lost nearly a third of its value in the 12 months ended Oct. 31, trailing the S&P 500 and almost 90% of its large-cap blend peers, according to Morningstar.

Some funds with income in their names have changed their labels. On July 31, Janus Equity Income morphed into

(JAEIX)

Janus Core Equity when its mandate switched from keeping most of its money in income-producing securities to keeping at least 80% of its money in growth stocks.

Maybe some of these funds should consider doing the same.

Ian McDonald writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He invites you to send your feedback to

imcdonald@thestreet.com, but he cannot give specific financial advice.