Names can be misleading. Order Boston cream pie, and you'll get a cake. Ask the bartender for a Long Island Iced Tea for your visiting aunt, and she'll end up sipping something considerably stronger. By the same token, not all mutual fund names accurately describe the investment you'll actually get.

For instance, many funds call themselves growth or value funds, even if their investments don't necessarily match up. The Dreyfus Alpha Growth A (DPWAX) fund beat the market and posted an average 3% gain over the past decade -- but according to Morningstar, it's really more of a blend of growth and value.

Among other holdings, the fund owns shares of Corning (NYSE: GLW) and Ford (NYSE: F). Corning is more of a typical growth stock, with plenty of potential producing specialty glass and ceramics for laptop and television displays, fiber optic cables, and more. But it's hard to call Ford a growth stock, since the rate of vehicle consumption just doesn't grow that quickly.

Even funds with less ambitious names can't always be trusted. The Embarcadero Market Neutral (EFMNX) fund, like other "market neutral" funds, aims to do well in any market. Yet over the past decade, this fund has averaged an 19.2% annual loss. If you'd invested $1,000 in it in 2000, you'd have close to $130 now.

The whole class of market-neutral funds, though still young, doesn't have an impressive track record so far. Since 2006, the average one is down slightly, while a reasonable benchmark mixing stocks and bonds has gained an annual average of 1.3%.

What's in a name?
Funds also change their names occasionally. In 2008, for example, the Fidelity Aggressive International (FIVFX) fund became the Fidelity International Capital Appreciation fund. Cynics might suggest that Fidelity wanted to disassociate the fund from its 2006 and 2007 performances, which placed it near the bottom of its category. Even if you give the fund the benefit of the doubt, though, it's interesting that after losing the word "aggressive," the fund's holdings shifted to an arguably more aggressive mix, with a greater allotment of growth stocks. A glance at its recent top holdings shows a strong 42% concentration in financial and industrial materials companies. If those sectors take a hit like they did in 2008, this fund will really feel it.

There are lots of great funds and ETFs -- but you'll need to take a close look at them before you buy, and never judge any of them solely by the name on the prospectus.

True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Corning. Ford Motor is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Try any of our investing newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.