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Business names for limited companies

View profile for Emma O'Brien
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Have you ever had a case of deja vu when looking at the name of a shop? Ever thought you’d seen that name somewhere else before?

It can be tricky deciding on an original business name which reflects your area of specialism, appeals to consumers and also complies with legal formalities.

There are different rules on naming a business depending on whether you are setting up as a sole trader, business partnership or limited company. This article focuses on some of the things a prospective limited company needs to consider before registering with Companies House.

Pick an original name

Make sure that your proposed business name is not the same or too similar to another registered company’s name or an existing trademark.

Companies House provides a name availability checker. You can enter your proposed business name to see whether there are any companies registered with the same name. You should also use your initiative in searching other sources that may reveal a match, for example, the internet and trade journals.

Your proposed name must not be offensive, sensitive or imply a connection with government or local authorities. There are limited exceptions where consent to use a word can be applied for from the Secretary of State or relevant body.

It must usually end with either “Limited” or “Ltd” or the equivalent “Cyfyngedig” and “Cyf” if the company is to be registered in Wales. (Note that there are special provisions for registered charities and those limited by guarantee.)

Registering a company is not the same as registering a trademark

Even when you have successfully registered your limited company, this does not mean the business name is protected from challenge by a third party. Registering a company at Companies House is a bit like buying a domain name - it stops someone else registering another company or website with the same name but it does not itself protect the use of the same in a wider context.

If you want to stop other people from using the same or a similar business name, then you should consider registering the name as a trademark. See the Intellectual Property Office resources through gov.uk for further information.

A company can use a business name

You can trade using a different name to the one that is registered with Companies House. Again, you must take care to ensure it meets the requirements set out above.

What if I don’t comply with requirements when naming my company?

Possible repercussions might involve:

  • You committing a criminal offence where approval is required to use a business name and it is not obtained. 
  • The Secretary of State directing you to change your business name.
  • An objection being made to the Company Names Tribunal making an order requiring you to change your name.
  • An action being brought against you for “passing off” by using a business name that implies it is connected with an already established Company.
  • An action being brought against you for trademark infringement.

Deciding on a business name is just one of a whole host of things that need to be properly thought through when starting out. Please contact our Company and Commercial Team on 01242 574244 if you need any help setting up a business.

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