Trademarks: If you pick a name too similar to an already trademarked name, you might find yourself in the Company names Tribunal or the Intellectual Property Office, faces with scathing fines. Avoid it by checking the Intellectual Property Office's website.
Non-identical: If you're a limited company, you can't use a name identical to one already on the Companies House register.
Offensive: You can't use a name deemed offensive to others.
Sensitive: You can't use sensitive words such as 'Royal', 'English', 'Foundation', 'Authority', 'Society', or professional titles such as 'Solicitor'. Check with Companies House for the full list if in doubt.
Business name vs company name: If you're a limited company, your business name is the name you use from day-to-day with customers (e.g. Bobsters), whereas your company name is the full name with suffixes that Companies House uses (e.g. Bobsters Ltd).
Endings: if you're a company, your company name has to end with the relevant words or abbreviations - 'limited' or 'ltd', 'plc', 'limited liability partnership' or 'LLP', or any Welsh equivalents.
Premises: If you're a limited company, you have to display your name on your business premises, even if you're a home business.
Alphabet prominence?: Most directories are listed alphabetically - if your customers are likely to find you in one, aim to be nearer the top by choosing a name beginning with A, B, C or one of the early letters.
URLs: It's absolutely crucial you get a good URL (web address) for your business name - make thorough checks with potential names and check all .com, .co.uk, .net and .biz endings. Remember though that you can play around with abbreviating your business name if there's nothing free. Unusual spellings can help you find free URLs, which is why so many new companies use them - Smarta being a case in point!
Explanatory?: Do you want your name to explain what you do? An explanatory name can help up your Google ranking and tell your potential customers how you can help them (Janice's Flowers, Smithson Carpenters, etc).
Search: Do extensive online searches and look in local directories and Yellow Pages to make sure a similar business doesn't already have a name like the one you have in mind, otherwise your customers will get confused and you risk losing custom to them.
Memorable: Simply, don't choose a name that no one can remember - run suggestions by friends to see.
Length: Don't go overly long - it'll look weird on signage and stationary and be more difficult to remember.
Capitalisation: Going lower case is a bit of a fad among new, particularly online, businesses at the moment - it very much signifies young, fresh, trendy types of company. If you want to strike customers as established and mature, stick to normal capitalisation.
Spelling: Playing around with unusual spellings can help you secure unique urls, and gives an air of trendiness and newness to your business.
Family: Surnames and mentions of next of kin (Giles & Son) give a sense of heritage and often bring a feeling of formality, prestige and a long-running business - but don't do it unless you genuinely have a family business, or you may have to answer a few awkward customer questions!
Puns: Puns tend to work best for low-cost brands - particularly hairdressers, for some reason (Hairway to heaven). But avoid them if you're trying to convey a more expensive image.
Your own name: When you meet people they'll feel valued that they're meeting you, as you are clearly the owner of the business. However, that can also be limiting, as it may make you seem smaller than you want.
Regional: Mentioning a place name (Riverford Organics) can give a brand a homely feel, and works nicely among the home-made and ethical crowd, as well as encouraging loyalty in your local area. But it can be limiting if you have grand plans - think of Norwich Union's recent and very costly rebrand to Aviva so they could appeal to a global audience.
Language 2.0: There has been a whole host of linguistic fashions in business naming that have sprung up with web 2.0 (the current version if the Internet) - placing 'i' or 'e' before any word, using a kooky spelling (flickr, tumblr), using lower case and mixing letters with punctuation (del.icio.us, ?What If!). But you need to think very carefully before indulging - such names may make your business name and your brand feel outdated in years to come.
HMRC: When sole traders register as self-employed with HMRC they also give their business name if it's different from their own name. (You register as self-employed as soon as you're actively seeking work.)
If you're a limited company, you need to register your name with Companies House. Sole traders don't need to. You can do this directly, or use one of the many Formations Agents online.
Domain: Snap up the URL you've found that fits your business name immediately, and register it with as many endings as you can too (.com, .co.uk, .biz, .net). If you don't, someone else will - and you don't want to be stung by having to buy the domain name off them further down the line.
As a Formations agent, we're committed to making the process of incorporating your limited company as simple and quick as possible. The benefits of forming your company with us are:
To help you on your business journey, we've created Smarta Business Builder, the complete online tools package for growing your business. Website Builder, Business Plans, Accounting Software, Legal Documents and Email - all in one place! Try it out today.