When you set up your own business, you may need to decide on a company name. If so, you’ll need to adhere to the rules and guidelines to ensure you settle on a suitable name for your business.
If you’re a sole trader, you don’t legally have to register a company name with Companies House, though you may need to register for self-assessment.
If you run a limited company, you have to pick a company name and register with Companies House.
You must also choose a name for a limited liability partnership (LLP) when you incorporate the LLP at Companies House. If you are setting up an ‘ordinary’ partnership, without limited liability, you don’t have to register its name.
How to register a company name
To register your company, you need to submit an application to Companies House. Choosing and registering your company name is part of this process.
You can register with Companies House online. You will be registered for Corporation Tax and can register for PAYE (if you’re intending to employ others) at the same time.
If you do not want to use the online service, you can register by post, via an agent, or using software designed for this purpose. If you register this way, you may need to register for Corporation Tax separately.
Registering your company online costs £12, while it costs £40 to apply by post. Registration normally takes up to 24 hours to complete if you apply online, and can take eight to 10 days if you applied by post.
If successful, you will receive a certificate of incorporation that confirms the full name of your company, the date it was registered, its unique registration number and the Registrar’s seal.
How to choose a company name
There are rules to follow when choosing a company name: you must pick something unique, and you may be restricted from using certain words or expressions.Your registered company name does not need to be the name under which you trade.
You can have a different ‘business name’ which you use for trading, though you will still need to publicly display your company name at your registered business premises and anywhere else you work.
There must be no other company registered with Companies House operating under your chosen name. A quick search using their company name availability checker will show whether your preferred name (or anything similar) is already in use in the UK.
You are not allowed to use the same name as an existing company. You may have to change your company name if it is the ‘same as’ or ‘too like’ a name that has already been registered and someone complains to Companies House.
If you plan to build a website for your business, you will need to check that there is an available domain name that closely matches your company name. You may also want to make sure your company name is not already being used on social media.
Keep it simple
Be cautious when it comes to special characters, punctuation and words with sensitive connotations. And think about spelling and pronunciation – having to continually repeat it to prospective clients won’t create a great first impression.
Avoid prohibited terms
You cannot use offensive language in your company name.
Also avoid other terms that are considered ‘sensitive’. You may have to prove that you have permission from an official body before using them in your company name. Examples include:
- words that suggest government affiliation
- words, such as ‘Prince’ and ‘Princess’
- words associated with a profession, such as ‘Chartered Accountant’, ‘Insurer’ and ‘Solicitor’
Full guidance on the words you can use in your company name and the permissions you need can be found on Gov.uk.
If you are registering a limited company, you may have to include ‘Limited’ or ‘Ltd’ at the end of your company name. You can use ‘Cyfyngedig’ or ‘Cyf’ if you’re registering a company in Wales.
If you use a business name to trade under that differs from your company name, it cannot include:
- ‘Limited’ or ‘Ltd’
- ‘Limited liability partnership’ or ‘LLP’
- ‘Public limited company’ or ‘plc’
- words considered ‘sensitive’ – unless you are authorised to do so
Give the right impression
Your company name is the very first encounter a new customer has with your business and brand. You want to make sure that it accurately conveys what you do, or is easy for clients to remember.
Think about the future
If you’re planning to operate your business long-term, consider whether your business is likely to expand. Do you plan to offer additional services down the line? If so, will your company name still match what your business does? And what about overseas trading? Is there any chance your name could be misinterpreted or misconstrued in another language – or even translated directly into something undesirable?
Make sure you decide on a name that won’t narrow your growth – and don’t include words or phrases that could easily fall out of common usage.
And finally, you may wish to retain the legal rights to your company or business name to guard against others using it without your permission. If so, you will need to register your name as a trademark.
There are rules that state what you can and can’t trademark. It is important to remember that a trademark will only protect your company name in the UK and the Isle of Man, not elsewhere. You can search the database of currently registered trademarks online.
Build your business
Choosing and registering your company name is one of the first steps to take when establishing a small business. Being registered as a limited company with Companies House can help you set up other areas of your business too. For example, you may want to open a business bank account for your new business. Banking providers have to check that you’re eligible. Proof that you run a limited company, such as your certificate of incorporation, may be needed as part of the application process.
As your business grows, you may look for external funding. You may need your certificate of incorporation to prove you’re registered with Companies House if you want to apply for a business loan.
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