1. Overview

Choosing a name for your business is a creative and enjoyable process. It is also one that you need to get right. Customers may infer a lot from your business name and first impressions count.

While it may be tempting to try to stamp your individual personality on your business name, there are many other issues to consider. Being objective and choosing a name that reflects your business strategy can be more valuable, especially as your business develops.

This guide shows you how to create the right impression, display your business name, consider whether your business name will be your brand and get your name on the web. It also outlines the specific rules that you must follow when choosing a company name for a limited company, limited liability partnership, sole trader or partnership.

2. Choosing a business name to create the right impression

When generating ideas about a business name, you may initially focus on personal preference. However, an objective approach will enable you to consider the customer first.

Your business name will be the cornerstone of your brand. It should work well wherever you use it - on the phone, in your logo, signage, stationery, advertisements, website, email and any other media you plan to use to reach the market. 

Points to help you decide on a name for your business

When choosing a name for your business, you need to ask:

  • do you want the name to reflect what your business does - moving, cleaning, building - or would something more abstract be suitable?
  • would it be a good idea to include your own name?
  • do you want a traditional-sounding name, conveying durability and old-fashioned values, or a modern name, suggesting a fresh, innovative approach?
  • think about the future - avoid words or phrases that are likely to date quickly
  • if you're likely to be trading overseas, check that the name doesn't mean anything inappropriate in the relevant languages
  • think about callers and customers - avoid very long names, strange wordings and unusual spelling. If you're planning to advertise in directories such as the Yellow Pages, think about using a name that appears near the beginning of the listings for your type of business
  • if you're focusing on the local market for your product or service, think about using the name of the city or town in the business name
  • keep your trading name creative, but your corporate name bland. This will give you the flexibility to develop other brands and trading names in the future
  • are you infringing someone else’s trade mark? You can find information on trade marks on the Intellectual Property Office website. If you are planning to sell abroad there’s a tool called TMview that searches across several European countries on the TMview website and other countries have similar tools. For more information about trade marks in general see the Intellectual Property Office website

Note that there are rules that could affect your choice of business name. 

3. Names for limited companies and LLPs

If you have decided to form a limited company or limited liability partnership (LLP), you must register your name and other details with Companies House.

It is essential to check first that your proposed name does not breach the rules on name endings, 'same as' rules or include a prescribed or sensitive word without permission.

Company and LLP names - the rules

To make sure the name you choose is acceptable, work through this list before you send your application to Companies House. Ensure that your name:

  • ends with 'limited' (or Ltd), 'public limited company' (or plc) or Welsh equivalents if you are a company
  • if you have a limited liability partnership your name ends with 'limited liability partnership' or LLP (including Welsh equivalents) if you are an LLP
  • isn't offensive
  • isn't the same as one already on the index of company names
  • doesn't include any sensitive words or expressions - unless you have obtained permission to use them

Trade marks

You should ensure your proposed name is not the same or very similar to a registered trade mark.

Complaints about company or LLP names

You can make a complaint about a company or LLP name to Companies House if:

  • the name is too similar to an existing company or LLP name
  • within 5 years of registration, it is found that misleading information was given at the time of registration
  • within 5 years of registration any conditions attached to the registration have not been fulfilled - eg the provision of support documentation for a sensitive name
  • the name is misleading and as a result may cause harm to the public

Find out how to complain about company names on the Companies House website.

You can also make a complaint about a company or LLP name to the Company Names Tribunal at the Intellectual Property Office if you believe the name has been chosen for opportunistic reasons.

Find out about the Company Names Tribunal on the Intellectual Property Office website.

4. Names for sole traders, partnerships and limited partnerships

Sole trader, partnership and limited partnership names - the rules

If you decide to use a business name, it must not:

  • be offensive
  • include the terms public limited company (plc), limited (ltd), limited liability partnership (LLP) or their Welsh equivalents
  • contain prescribed or sensitive words and expressions, unless you have obtained permission to use them 

If you register a limited partnership you must include either 'Limited Partnership' or 'LP' (or their Welsh equivalent if you are registered in Wales) at the end of your business name.

For more information, you can contact the Companies House Contact Centre on 0303 1234 500.

Is anyone else using your proposed business name?

Before using your chosen name, check that it isn't already being used.

If a sole trader at the other end of the country is using it, there may not be a problem. However, if another local business, company or national firm is using it, you should choose a different name.

  • check local phone books, business directories and the internet
  • make sure that your proposed name - or something similar - hasn't been registered by a company
  • make sure that the name isn't too similar to a word or expression that has been registered as a trade mark

If you're in any doubt about your business name, you can telephone the Business Information Helpline on 03000 6 03000 for advice.

5. Use of sensitive words and expressions in business names

There are some words and expressions that you can't use in a business name unless you have official permission. These are words that might give a false impression about your business. They are known as sensitive words.

The rules about sensitive words apply to all types of businesses and fall into 5 main groups:

Sensitive words
Type of expression Examples

Words that suggest your business is of national importance or status

British, National, International, European

Words that suggest a special status

Association, Authority, Chartered, Council, Institute, Society

Words that suggest a particular function

Charity, Insurance, Register, Trust

Words that suggest a specialised activity

Health Centre

Words that suggest connections with government or royalty

Parliament, Government, Royal, Queen, Prince

Getting further help

These guidelines provide a basic summary of sensitive words.

Find a list of prescribed sensitive words on the Companies House website.

6. Displaying and disclosing your business, company or limited liability partnership name

Every business must display its business name - and other details - to inform customers and suppliers who they are dealing with. You should not print your stationery until you're certain your proposed name is acceptable.

Limited companies and limited liability partnerships (LLPs) must wait until registration is complete and a Certificate of Incorporation has been issued. This shows the company's registered name and number.

A sole trader or partnership must obtain prior approval to use a sensitive word in their proposed business name. 

Displaying a limited company or LLP name

You must display a sign with your company or LLP name:

  • in characters that can be easily read
  • in a place where visitors can easily and clearly see it at any time and not just during business hours
  • continuously

You must also include your company's or LLP's registered name on all hard copy and electronic business correspondence and documents including:

  • letters, notices and other official publications
  • emails
  • bills of exchange, promissory notes, endorsements and order forms
  • cheques signed by or on behalf of the company
  • orders for money, goods or services signed by or on behalf of the company
  • bills of parcels, invoices and other demands for payment, receipts and letters of credit
  • your website - you do not need to include the company name on every page but it must be displayed so it can be easily read

Information you must display

On all business letters, order forms and websites, you must display:

  • the place of registration
  • the registered number
  • the address of registered office
  • the fact that it is a limited company or LLP
  • the amount of paid up share capital, if you have chosen to display your share capital
  • information if the company or LLP is being wound up

You do not have to state directors' names on business letters unless you want to do so. However, if you do decide to include directors' names, then you must state all the directors' names.

If you are an LLP with more than 20 members, you don't need to display the members' names. However, you must keep a list of members at your principal place of business and state that the list is available for inspection.

Displaying a sole trader or partnership business name

If you are a sole trader or partnership, your business name, your own name, or the partners' names and business address must be clearly displayed in most cases:

  • wherever you run your business and deal with customers or suppliers
  • on all business letters, orders, payments, invoices, receipts and other business documents

Displaying a name online

If your business has a website, you must display:

  • general information about your business - including business name, address, email address, VAT registration number (if applicable)
  • details of any relevant professional body that you belong to or any authorisation scheme to which your service is subject

7. Getting your business name on the internet

Even if you are not intending to create a website for your business immediately, you'll probably be using email and want to have a presence on the web at some point in the future. This could be a single screen advertising your business and giving contact details, or it could be a site that allows customers to browse through products, place orders and make payments online.

Choosing a domain name

The website address - for example, my-new-business.co.uk - is known as a domain name. For most businesses based in the UK, a name ending with .co.uk is suitable. Your email address will normally include this name - for example, enquiries@ my-new-business.co.uk.

Businesses and individuals that meet certain criteria can apply for the .eu domain extension - for example, www. my-new-business.eu.

If your business is active in other European Union countries, the .eu domain name can help you market your company as a pan-European business. Find out how to register .eu domain names on the European Registry of Internet Domain Names (EURid) website.

To reserve a domain name for your business, you need to register it through an agent, who will charge a small annual fee. You should do this as soon as possible - even if you're not going to use your domain name straight away.

You cannot have a domain name that is the same name as a company registered with Companies House.

Registering your domain name

  • decide on a suitable domain name for your website - if you are unable to use one that exactly matches your business name. You can use numbers as well as letters. Hyphens can be used to separate words - but you can't include spaces, full stops or other punctuation. It's a good idea to have a few alternative names in case your first choice has already been taken
  • check whether the name is available - the official registry for UK domain names is Nominet. Check whether your chosen domain name is available on the Nominet website

  • register the name - this is a simple process which you can carry out online with any registration agent. There are hundreds of registration agents to choose from - a good starting point is Nominet. Find out about choosing a registration agent on the Nominet website