Fewer mergers and corporate buyouts, greater stress on core businesses and growing fears of a recession caused a 17 percent drop in corporate name changes last year, a consulting firm reports.

There were 1,321 name changes in 1990, compared with 1,600 in 1989, according to an annual survey by Anspach Grossman Portugal Inc., which keeps track of corporate monikers. Last year's figure is 29 percent lower than the record 1,864 corporate name changes set in 1988.In 1990, mergers and acquisitions accounted for 682 changes, vs. 799 merger-induced names a year earlier.

Last year's figures included 96 new thrift industry names in acquisitions assisted by the Resolution Trust Corp. There were 48 such switches in 1989.

But some other new names in the industry occurred as healthy thrifts hoped to reassure depositors by dropping the "savings and loan" label and adopting "bank." Among them were Eureka Federal Savings, now EurekaBank, and DeKalb Federal Savings and Loan Association, now Prime Bank.

Another 362 of last year's name changes resulted from leveraged buyouts, reorganizations, asset sales, spinoffs and divestitures.

"All this activity, which accounts for 79 percent of the corporate name changes, brings into even sharper focus the extent of the restructuring that is occurring in corporate America today," said AGP partner Joe Portugal.

Two hundred twenty-nine changes last year were elective, the firm said. Those included Shearson Lehman Hutton Holdings' switch to Shearson Lehman Brothers Holdings and Liggett Group's change to Brooke Group.