Choosing a Business Name…

15 Apr, 2009 Phil Starting Up

resourcejpgWhen you’re setting up a business – online or offline - one of the first things you must do is choose a business name.  A well-chosen name can play a such a powerful part in building your business and contributing to its brand and success.

You need to look 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 etc

* Protecting your name through Trademark and Intellectual protection

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 (Ltd) 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, apparently.

Company names must be registered at Companies House and comply with the Companies Act of 1985 as part of being Ltd.  Certainly at the start, I have no personal need to become Ltd, so I’ll just remain as a happy sole trader.

Is your name already in use?

If you don’t want to use your own personal name (E.g Phil Owen), check that someone else isn’t already using your chosen alternative (Eg MyCompany).  There are a number of places you can actually check this out for free:

*  The Companies House register, which lists the names of limited companies (Ltd) and Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs).

*  The Trade Marks Journal published by UK Intellectual Property Office (UK-IPO).

*  Trade and telephone directories.

*  Online Business Directories

*  Membership directories.

*  The internet, to see if a business has already registered an identical domain name.  Choosing a domain is important, so my advice is either choose a business name then immediately check if a domain is free or pick your company name from the domain.  For my personal project – Project X - I went through 1000’s of domain ideas but were mostly taken.  My wife then actually shouted out a name, I checked, it was available so i bought it and that is now the name of my whole business project.

The risk of choosing a similar name to another business

You may run into a lot of financial problems if your name is easily confused with an existing business in the same area or one that offers similar products or services.  If you like going to court for a potential fine for copyright infringement, I advise to be completely unique and play it safe.

Names you may not use:

*  Offensive words and phrases.

*  Names that imply a connection with the Government or a local authority when you are not.

*  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 – makes sense

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.  It is proper practice and communicates a consistency as to who you are.

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

A business name is really, really important.  It informs customers of your personality, profile and brand.  Branding is essential nowadays with such emphasis on selling a brand over services.  Eg, If Cadbury’s chocolate released a new chocolate, you would recognise it as quality when you saw the Cadbury’s brand on the wrapper, the font and logo, and you would trust the brand as being of a very high quality.  Even people who don’t eat chocolate will have heard of the brand.  Brand is also referred to as Corporate Identity and is vital.

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 your name says about you

Question is: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  local to cusotmers that can deal with customers on a more personal level.  It may not work if you plan to expand over a wider area, nationally or globally.

Adding a word like ‘International’ may imply size and give your business stature – although if you don’t work internationally, you could be giving false impressions about your business and attract customers that you’re potentially not able – or prepared - to work with.

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 graphic designer to help you develop a brand identity for your business.  Lots of companies online offer logo design services, which include the logo design, colour scheme, taglines, motto, and any other aspects such as cartoon characters to be associated with the brand (eg Ronald McDonald or the guy pulling his hair out from   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 your name as a protected 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.  For my site, I found useful

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.

Useful in Relation to Choosing a Business Name:

Companies Registration Offices England and Wales
0870 333 3636

Companies Registration Office (N Ireland)

0845 604 8888
Records of limited companies are kept at the Companies Registration Offices and can be searched online. Find also guidance on how to form a limited company.

UK Intellectual Property Office

08459 500 505

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About Phil

Phil is creative director at PSM Digital but also freelances with web design and SEO in Manchester, UK. He researches and studies online business, along with the latest technological advances and development in design, SEO and social media.

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About The One Man Mission...

Hi I’m Phil. Welcome to my blog, where you’ll find useful information on web design, development and online business advice.  I’m a creative director for a digital agency in Manchester, UK and I also freelance web design also.  Currently setting up and developing a new online business, I am here...

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