Choosing and Protecting Your Business Name
Find out more about the legal aspects of naming your business, developing a successful brand and how to register your name
When you set up in business, one of the first things you must do is choose a name. A well-chosen name can play a powerful part in building your business and contributing to its profile and success.
This guide looks at:
- The legal aspects of naming your business and the main restrictions
- Choosing your name – what works and what doesn’t
- What your name says about you: size, image, branding
- Protecting your name
The legal aspects of naming your business
Legally speaking, names used by sole traders and unincorporated businesses are known as business names, while the names of incorporated limited businesses are referred to as company names.
Although you won’t need to register it, your business name must comply with the Business Names Act of 1985.
Company names must be registered at Companies House and comply with the Companies Act of 1985.
Is your name already in use?
If you don’t want to use your own name, check that someone else isn’t already using your chosen alternative. There are a number of places you can do this free:
- The Companies House register, which lists the names of limited companies and Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs).
- The Trade Marks Journal published by UK Intellectual Property Office (UK-IPO).
- Trade and telephone directories.
- Membership directories for chambers of commerce or professional bodies.
- The internet, to see if a business has already registered an identical domain name.
The risk of choosing a similar name to another business
You may run into problems if your name is easily confused with an existing business in the same area or one that offers similar products or services. If confusion does or could arise, the other party could take you to court to make you change your name.
Names you may not use:
- Offensive words and phrases.
- Names that imply a connection with the Government or a local authority.
- Around 80 reserved words requiring the agreement of the Secretary of State before you can use them, including British, Royal, National and English.
- Names likely to confuse the public as to your business status, for example, a sole trader cannot choose a phrase including the word limited.
Making your name clear in your business dealings
You must include your business or company name on all documentation, such as stationery, invoices and receipts, as well as websites.
If you are registered with Companies House, you should also add your registration number and registered office address.
If you are a sole trader or partnership using a different trading name, include your name or the names of the partners.
Choosing your name – what works and what doesn’t
A business name plays several roles. It informs, projects personality and enhances your business profile and image.
When you are naming your business, ask yourself:
- Do you want to use a descriptive name – one that reflects the nature of your business or its location?
- How will the name sound spoken over the telephone?
- Can people pronounce and spell it easily?
- Will people be able to find it easily in telephone directories?
- Will it work as an internet domain name?
- Does it have any unfortunate connotations or hidden meanings that may distract or upset people?
- If you plan to trade internationally, does your name translate well in other languages, especially those of your key markets?
- How does the name relate to your chosen market?
- Does it limit you? Is it likely to date?
- What does it say about your business image?
What to avoid
- Overloading a name – e.g. XYZ International Worldwide Enterprises – can sound pretentious rather than informative.
- Over-extending description – e.g. XYZ Consultants, Copywriters, Counsellors and General Advisers – can confuse customers and lack impact.
- Be wary of using initials as a name, e.g. XYZ Solutions. Such names often sound bland and are hard to remember.
- If you are trading under your own name or using geographical information such as a street name, there is a risk that the resulting business name may lack impact, be unpronounceable or be too similar to a competitor’s.
What your name says about you: size, image, branding
How big do you want people to think you are?
Certain names could automatically position you as small, e.g. Willesden Data Services. This might be useful if you want to convey a sense of being a local business that can deal with customers on a one-to-one basis. It may not work if you plan to expand over a wider area.
Adding a word like “International” may imply size and give your business stature – although if you don’t work internationally, you could be giving a false impression about your business and attract customers that you’re not geared up to serve.
Your image and branding
A well-chosen name contributes to the positive image of the company or business it belongs to.
Names that are pleasant, memorable or even quirky could work well. But a good name isn’t enough on its own; it must be supported by smart, consistent branding and promotion.
It is worth consulting a designer to help you develop a brand identity for your business. This will give your business a logo and a consistent look that you can apply to everything from your business premises to your website and stationery.
Protecting your name
You can protect your name in a variety of ways.
- Register as a limited company
Even if you are trading as a sole trader or partnership, the company name can remain dormant until you wish to change your trading status.
- Register your name as a trademark
Protecting your rights is easier and less expensive if you have a formal monopoly on a particular trademark. A mark is protected for ten years, then needs to be renewed. For more information, talk to the UK Intellectual Property Office.
Once your business name is in use, make occasional checks to ensure that no one else is setting up nearby or in the same line of business using a similar name.
- Companies Registration Offices England, Northern Ireland and Wales
0870 333 3636
- Companies Registration Office (N Ireland)
From 1st October, the Companies Registry NI (CRNI) website was closed and all of the relevant information relating to Companies Act 2006 is available on the Companies House website. For CRNI guidance and forms for events that happened before 1st October 2009 please use the Companies House Contact Centre.
- UK Intellectual Property Office
08459 500 505
This business advice article published in association with Lloyds TSB.
Whether you are looking to start-up a business account or want to move your existing business account Lloyds TSB can offer you all the Business Banking support you need
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