* Gaim Monaco conference to be held next week
* Meeting is biggest hedge fund get-together in Europe
* Some funds pushing back against hedge fund tag
* Driven by bad press and desire to appeal to institutions
BOSTON/MONACO, June 13 (Reuters) - What's in a name? For a growing number of hedge funds, the answer seems to be quite a lot.
Working for, or better still running a hedge fund, has long been the dream for thousands of business school graduates and seasoned investment managers. These days, however, some in the $2.7 trillion industry, known for its secrecy, hefty fees and recent slump in returns, want distance from those two words.
Boston-based Highfields Capital for instance, which manages billions for big universities and exclusive endowments, gently asks journalists not to call it a hedge fund, preferring asset management firm.
New York-based Tiger Global Management, which invests assets in a hedge fund and a private equity fund, forcefully protests being called a hedge fund.
Even William Ackman, an activist investor, was introduced at an industry conference by his college friend Whitney Tilson as top-flight asset allocator, not hedge fund manager.
"The preference is to be called an investment partnership, which is of course a euphemism for hedge fund," said Michael Weinberg, chief investment officer at a family office, who also teaches future fund managers at Columbia Business School.
While investors might not want to be called a short-seller for fear of cutting off access to corporate management, "it is more difficult to understand when hedge fund became a pejorative term," Weinberg said.
At next week's Gaim Monaco, the hedge fund industry's biggest annual get-together in Europe, the agenda features a smattering of "capital partners" plus "investment management" firms, a title more commonly found at the NAME mutual fund conference, held in the same venue the following week.
The roots of managers' newfound shyness about being called a hedge fund can be traced to a fear of being blamed for the financial crisis, plus embarrassment at being publicly linked to the wealthy elite or so-called 1 percent, analysts say.
Yet the change also reflects the evolution of the industry, so that to the casual observer, differences are fading between powerhouse mutual funds and the world's biggest hedge funds, especially post-financial crisis, as both types of firms battle for pension money and are sometimes taking on less risk.
Many hedge funds, especially as they grow in size, offer a wider array of products beyond the long/short equity hedge funds that made famous the industry's elder statesmen, including George Soros and Julian Robertson.
Now some of the men they trained, including Andreas Halvorsen, who runs Viking Global, Lee Ainslee, who runs Maverick Capital, and Stephen Mandel, who runs Lone Pine, all offer long-only funds now too. And there is a push among pension funds to get hedge funds to customize their investments, giving a further push to the shift in names.
For those looking to acknowledge that cultural convergence and position themselves to appeal to investors with a more differentiated outlook, picking the right name could help.
"It's human nature, to an extent," said Chris Hawkins, portfolio manager at fund of hedge fund firm Gottex Asset Management. "If you're a pension fund, who are you going to feel more comfortable giving your money to? That's why a lot of (funds have) ... gone to the big asset gathering funds, which can look and sound safer."
Still, the preference in names is raising eyebrows and bemused smiles among some investors, who interview hundreds of managers a year and have the power to make or break a firm's future.
Seema Hingorani, who was interim chief investment officer for New York City Pension Funds, laughed when asked about how managers are referring to themselves these days. She noted that in her office they are still called hedge fund managers when pitching to invest money for the city.
While many funds have no desire to attract institutional money and may feel no need to adopt a more palatable persona, the broad desire for respectability is likely to remain.
"The hedge fund industry is maturing fast, being responsible and looking after money that belongs to a changing client base, increasingly made up of institutional investors including pension funds with a high end-consumer interest," said Tom Brown, global head of investment management at consultancy KPMG .
"As investor expectation, political pressure and regulation continually raise the bar, it means hedge funds need the right culture and governance that's fit for purpose."
(Editing by David Holmes)