Choosing a name for your business gives you the opportunity to be creative and have some fun. The name you choose can be an important asset and really help to set you up for success. It will be part of prospective customers first impressions of your business so it’s worth taking time to go through all the considerations.
Your business name should help you create goodwill for your business with customers, suppliers and employees. Some people like quirky names because they make them smile or can be more memorable. On the other hand, many online searches are based on a local area so adding the name of your area or town can help new customers to find your business. Whatever name you choose, make it memorable. Long names or initials can be hard to remember and a distinctive name can help ensure your business benefits from repeat orders.
There are some restrictions on business name formation. Sole traders are not allowed to use the following terms in their name as this incorrectly describes the status of their business:
- Limited (Ltd)
- Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)
- Public limited company (Plc)
Plus, the name you choose can’t be offensive, nor can it contain prescribed ‘sensitive’ words. Find out more about these terms here.
As part of your decision-making process, say the name you’re thinking about, out loud. This might sound (or feel) a bit odd but in business you will introduce yourself and your business name countless times – in person and over the phone. Think about how it will sound, or if there is the risk of a word being misheard or misunderstood. And think about having to spell the name in a phone call – ‘F’s and ‘S’s sound very similar, for example (easier if you can use the phonetic alphabet). The risk of confusion, or tiresomeness of spelling out a name every time, might in itself rule a name out of consideration.
It may take a while to identify the best options but stick with it. Over time a strong business name can become a valuable asset that you can include in your balance sheet and even license to others to use. The name you choose should not be the same as, or similar to, a name being used by another business. The last thing you need when starting up is to end up in a costly row over who the name belongs to!
Once you have decided on your business name, manage the risk of using a duplicate or similar name by making as many enquiries as you can. Start by looking online using search engines like Google to check if your preferred name is in use or if someone else is using a similar name.
Search the Companies House register on the Companies House website to find out if a business has registered your name, or a similar name, as a UK limited company or limited liability partnership (LLP). If it has, you can click on the company number for free access to basic details such as when it was registered, its official address, whether it’s trading and when it last filed accounts or a confirmation statement. Be aware that registering a company name does not automatically protect it by trade mark law.
To find out if a business name is registered as a UK trade mark, you can search the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) register on the IPO website. Again, be aware that if you register a trade mark, you may not necessarily be able to register it as a limited company name. The IPO register and the Companies House register are two different forms of protection, managed by two separate organisations.
If you are planning to have a website at some point, make sure you check for names registered as domain names at the websites of official registries Nominet for UK domain names (use the ‘whois’ field in the top right hand corner) and Internic for .com domain names. You can also check what versions of a website address are available, for any name you’re considering: any website which sells and registers website addresses, has a search function which will tell you what suffixes (like .com, .co.uk. .scot and other variations) are available and which are already registered.
While it takes time to identify a business name and make all these checks, it pays to do all this work as you are starting up your business. It is much more disruptive to find someone else is using a similar name – or the website domain name has been taken – once your business is up and running. Do your checks now and find the best name for your business.
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