Is your business' name legal?

Picking a company name is far from straightforward, and you certainly can't call your business anything you want. There are strict company formation guidelines on what is and what's not allowed to used as a company name. This business guide explains how to check if your company name is legal and allowed.

  • Is your company name unique?
  • Names of business that have been liquidated or dissolved
  • Sensitive words to avoid
  • National words
  • Authoritative words
  • Specific objects or functions  words

Is your company name unique?

Your first step is to find out if you're company name is available. You can check if your name is available on Companies House and it's worth bearing in mind that Companies House remove all punctuation and spaces when checking names are free; so for example adding an exclamation mark to name won't make a difference to an already registered name. It also ignores THE and COMPANY, e.g. if London Tea Rooms is already registered, you wouldn't be able to register The London Tea Rooms as a unique name.

  • Check to make sure your company name is available before setting it in stone
  • Don't include punctuation or THE or COMPANY as this will be ignored

Names of business that have been liquidated or dissolved

You're not allowed to register a company that is in liquidation. So if you've heard of a company in that stage and think it's got a great name, think again and don't waste your time trying to register it. The Companies House name search facility will place an L next to these names. However, you are allowed to register a company name that has been dissolved. These will be clearly marked with a D next to them.

  • Don't assume a company going into liquidation means you can use its name
  • Dissolved company names can be re registered

Sensitive words to avoid

There's a long list of names you must avoid when registering a name. These are described as sensitive words and can range from names of countries to words that imply authoritative names. The main reason for this is to prevent the public being mislead as to what your businesses function is. E.g. If you're not a British owned company, then you wouldn't be allowed to call your business The British Radiator Company. We've broken the following steps down into the most commonly misused sensitive names.

  • Avoid using sensitive names in your company name.
  • Check and double check your right to use sensitive names if you feel they will add to the name.

National words

You must be careful using national words such as British, England, English, Scotland, Scottish, Wales, Welsh, Ireland, Irish, Great Britain, United Kingdom, International or European. This is mainly because using such a suffix to a company name could imply that it has a connection to a Government body or trade association. There is an exception to this which is if one of these words is your surname. You'll usually then be able to use it as a company name if you include your forename or initials, e.g. you should be able to get away with A. English or Annabel English as your company name. You will of course need to check that this name is unique and free as described in step 1.

  • Think carefully about including these words in your company name take a long time to research
  • Ask yourself if they're absolutely necessary

Authoritative words

There are also strict rules for using authoritative words within your company names. Words such as, association, federation or society, as these words imply your company are in fact this type and would be limited by guarantee. You also need to check if you're allowed to use words such as authority, board or council. And using a word such as institute or institution can usually only be allowed for organisations that carry out research.

  • You need to insure that you only use these words if they are applicable to your company.
  • Don't use words in your name that could be construed to mislead the public

Specific objects or functions  words

When naming your business you should also avoid names that include specific options or functions. Words such as chartered wouldn't be allowed as it would give the impression that your company has a Royal Charter. Other words like this that you need to avoid include foundation or fund, charity, co operative, group, group, society, holdings, patent, post office, stock exchange, trust (there are a wide variety of trusts so you will need to check them all) and trade union.

  • If your company won't perform a specific function then don't include these words

You can search for available names then register a business name with Smarta. You will receive a professional binder with all your official documents via post within 3 days.

Go to our company registration tool here: Company registration tool

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