Choose the right name for your business

1 Overview
2 Choosing a business name to create the right impression
3 Names for limited companies and LLPs
4 Names for sole traders, partnerships and limited partnerships
5 Use of sensitive words and expressions in business names
6 Displaying and disclosing your business, company or limited liability partnership name
7 Getting your business name on the internet

1. Overview

First impressions count - customers may infer a lot from your business name.

While it may be tempting to try to stamp your individual personality on your business name, there are many other issues to consider. Being objective and choosing a name that reflects your business strategy can be more valuable, especially as your business develops.

This guide shows you how to create the right impression, display your business name, consider whether your business name will be your brand and get your name on the web. It also outlines the specific rules that you must follow when choosing a company name for a limited company, limited liability partnership, sole trader or partnership.

2. Choosing a business name to create the right impression

Your business name will be the cornerstone of your brand. It should work well wherever you use it - on the phone, in your logo, signage, stationery, advertisements, website, email and any other media you plan to use to reach the market.

When choosing a name for your business, you should think about the following points:

  • Do you want the name to reflect what your business does - moving, cleaning, building? Or would something more abstract be suitable?
  • Would it be a good idea to include your own name?
  • Do you want a traditional-sounding name, conveying durability and old-fashioned values, or a modern name, suggesting a fresh, innovative approach?
  • Think about the future - avoid words or phrases that are likely to date quickly.
  • If you're likely to be trading overseas, check that the name doesn't mean anything inappropriate in the relevant languages
  • Think about callers and customers - avoid very long names, strange wordings and unusual spelling. If you're planning to advertise in directories such as the Yellow Pages, think about using a name that appears near the beginning of the listings for your type of business
  • If you're focusing on the local market for your product or service, think about using the name of the city or town in the business name
  • Keep your trading name creative, but your corporate name bland. This will give you the flexibility to develop other brands and trading names in the future.

There are rules that could affect your choice of business name.

3. Names for limited companies and LLPs

If you have decided to form a limited company or limited liability partnership (LLP), you must register your name and other details with Companies House.

You need to check that your proposed name does not breach the rules on name endings, 'same as' rules or include a prescribed or sensitive word without permission.

Company and LLP names - the rules

To make sure the name you choose is acceptable, ensure that your name:

  • ends with 'limited' (or Ltd), 'public limited company' (or plc)
  • ends with 'limited liability partnership' a or LLP (if you have a limited liability partnership)
  • isn't offensive
  • isn't the same as one already on the index of company names
  • doesn't include any sensitive words or expressions (unless you have obtained permission to use them)

Trade marks

You should ensure your proposed name is not the same or very similar to a registered trade mark.

Complaints about company or LLP names

You can make a complaint about a company or LLP name to Companies House if:

  • the name is too similar to an existing company or LLP name
  • within five years of registration, it is found that misleading information was given at the time of registration
  • within five years of registration any conditions attached to the registration have not been fulfilled - eg the provision of support documentation for a sensitive name
  • the name is misleading and as a result may cause harm to the public

You can also make a complaint about a company or LLP name to the Company Names Tribunal at the Intellectual Property Office if you believe the name has been chosen for opportunistic reasons.

4. Names for sole traders, partnerships and limited partnerships

People operating as sole traders or in general partnerships can trade under their own names, or choose a different business name.

If you decide to use a business name, it must not:

  • be offensive
  • include the terms public limited company (plc), limited (ltd), limited liability partnership (LLP)
  • contain prescribed or sensitive words and expressions, unless you have obtained permission to use them

If you register a limited partnership you must include either 'Limited Partnership' or 'LP' at the end of your business name.

Is anyone else using your proposed business name?

Before using your chosen name, check that it isn't already being used.

If a sole trader at the other end of the country is using it, there may not be a problem. However, if another local business, company or national firm is using it, you should choose a different name.

You should do the following checks:

  • check local phone books, business directories and the internet
  • make sure that your proposed name - or something similar - hasn't been registered by a company
  • make sure that the name isn't too similar to a word or expression that has been registered as a trade mark.

If you're in any doubt about your business name, get expert advice from your local Business Gateway.

5. Use of sensitive words and expressions in business names

There are some words and expressions that you can't use in a business name unless you have official permission. These are words that might give a false impression about your business. They are known as sensitive words.

The rules about sensitive words apply to all types of businesses and fall into five main groups:

  • words that suggest your business is of national importance or status - eg British, National, International, European
  • words that suggest a special status - eg Association, Authority, Chartered, Council, Institute, Society
  • words that suggest a particular function - eg Charity, Insurance, Register, Trust
  • words that suggest a specialised activity - eg Health Centre
  • words that suggest connections with government or royalty Parliament - eg  Government, Royal, Queen, Prince

6. Displaying and disclosing your business, company or limited liability partnership name

Every business must display its business name - and other details - to inform customers and suppliers who they are dealing with. You should not print your stationery until you're certain your proposed name is acceptable.

Limited companies and limited liability partnerships (LLPs) must wait until registration is complete and a Certificate of Incorporation has been issued.

A sole trader or partnership must obtain prior approval to use a sensitive word in their proposed business name.

You must display a sign with your company or LLP name:

  • in characters that can be easily read
  • in a place where visitors can easily and clearly see it at any time and not just during business hours
  • continuously

You must also include your company's or LLP's registered name on all hard copy and electronic business correspondence including:

  • letters, notices and other official publications
  • emails
  • bills of exchange, promissory notes, endorsements and order forms
  • cheques signed by or on behalf of the company
  • orders for money, goods or services signed by or on behalf of the company
  • bills of parcels, invoices and other demands for payment, receipts and letters of credit
  • your website - you do not need to include the company name on every page but it must be displayed so it can be easily read

You do not have to state directors' names on business letters unless you want to do so. However, if you do decide to include directors' names, then you must state all the directors' names.

If you are an LLP with more than 20 members, you don't need to display the members' names. However, you must keep a list of members at your principal place of business and state that the list is available for inspection.

Displaying a name online

If your business has a website, you must display:

  • general information about your business - including business name, address, email address, VAT registration number (if applicable)
  • details of any relevant professional body that you belong to or any authorisation scheme to which your service is subject

7. Getting your business name on the internet

Even if you are not intending to create a website for your business immediately, you'll probably be using email and want to have a presence on the web at some point in the future.

Choosing a domain name

The website address - for example, my-new-business.co.uk - is known as a domain name. For most businesses based in the UK, a name ending with .co.uk is suitable. Your email address will normally include this name - for example, enquiries@my-new-business.co.uk.

Businesses and individuals that meet certain criteria can apply for the .eu domain extension - for example, www.my-new-business.eu.

If your business is active in other European Union countries, the .eu domain name can help you market your company as a pan-European business. 

To reserve a domain name for your business, you need to register it through an agent, who will charge a small annual fee. You should do this as soon as possible - even if you're not going to use your domain name straight away.

You cannot have a domain name that is the same name as a company registered with Companies House.

Registering your domain name

  • Decide on a suitable domain name for your website - You can use numbers as well as letters. Hyphens can be used to separate words but not spaces, full stops or other punctuation. It's a good idea to have a few alternative names in case your first choice has already been taken.
  • Check whether the name is available on the official registry for UK domain names, Nominet
  • Register the name - you can do this online with any registration agent. There are hundreds of registration agents to choose from - a good starting point is Nominet.

Contact your local Business Gateway office.

Your local office will be able to answer your questions on this or any other business subject. 

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