Business name – What is a business name?

A business name is the name a business is known by. It might be the business owner's own personal name, or it might be something entirely different and unique to the business.

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Business names should be used on all official correspondence, such as letters and invoices. Certain businesses will also need to display their name in the locations where their business operates.

Rules for naming a business

There are a few general rules that all business names must follow. Business names must not:

  • Be offensive

  • Be the same as an existing registered name or trade mark

  • Suggest a connection with government or local authorities (unless you’ve been given permission to do so)

When choosing a name, you will also need to follow some extra business name rules that depend on the structure of your business.

Sole traders and partnerships can choose to use their own personal name as their business name, while limited companies must choose something else. 

Furthermore, while limited companies must usually choose names that end in either ‘Limited’ or ‘Ltd’ (or the Welsh equivalents, ‘Cyfyngedig’ and ‘Cyf’), sole traders and partnerships are banned from using names that include ‘limited’, ‘Ltd’, ‘limited liability partnership, ‘LLP’, ‘public limited company,’ or ‘plc’.

How to register a business name

Some businesses will need to register their business name. Before you register a business name you should:

  • Check that your proposed name meets the legal requirements and doesn’t break any rules for business names

  • Check that your proposed business name isn’t taken by another company

  • Check that your proposed business name doesn’t infringe on any existing trade marks

Once you’ve checked that your proposed business name is suitable and available, you will need to supply your business name when you apply to incorporate your business. If your business name is approved, it will be registered with Companies House, which will prevent new businesses from registering with your company name.

This only applies to limited companies, and partnerships and sole traders aren’t required to incorporate or register their name with Companies House.

How to check a business name

Because you’re not allowed to choose a name that is used by another company, it’s important that you check which business names are available.

Bear in mind that business names can be rejected even if they aren’t exact copies of another company name, and your business name won’t be approved if it’s considered to be the ‘same as’ or ‘too like’ an existing name. 

Your business name will be considered to be the ‘same as’ an existing name if the only difference is:

  • Punctuation

  • Special characters, for example the ‘plus’ sign

  • A word or character that is used commonly in UK business names

  • A word or character that looks or sounds the same as another name

Companies House offers a business name directory that you can use to check the availability of your proposed business name.

Business names and trade marks

Business names are generally considered to be a type of intellectual property, which means that you’re eligible for specific protections that stop other businesses using your name without your permission. 

As soon as company names are registered with Companies House, other businesses are prevented from registering their business under the same name; however, you might also want to consider registering a trade mark.

If you register your business name as a trade mark, you’ll be able to:

  • Take legal action against anyone who uses your name without your permission

  • Use the ® symbol 

  • Sell and license your name

You can apply to register a trade mark online, and it costs £170 for a single trade mark case and £50 for every additional case.

Business names vs. company names

The terms ‘business name’ and ‘company name’ are often used interchangeably. While business names and company names are essentially the same things, technically, only incorporated businesses (i.e. private limited companies and public limited companies) are considered to be companies. 

The term ‘business name’ can therefore be used to refer to the name of a business that follows any kind of structure, whereas a company name should technically only be used to refer to the name of a business that has been incorporated.

Business names vs. trading names

In some circumstances, it's possible to trade under a different name than the name you’ve registered with Companies House. The name you have registered with Companies House is then known as your business name, and the name you use on a day-to-day basis is known as your trading name.

If you do use a trading name, it's important to state your official business name as well as your trading name on your website, paperwork, and at any location where your business operates. You should use the phrase “ trading as ”.