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Your guide to choosing a business name

Your guide to choosing a business name

What’s in a name? Choosing a company name is probably one of the most time consuming decisions you will make for your new business. Whilst our children usually keep their name for life, it’s relatively simple to change your business name later, but it’s still best to get it right the first time. I still refer to Marathons when I mean Snickers but the chocolate treat still seems to taste the same.

How to come up with a business name

Some people seem to come up with their business name at the same moment as they conceive their business idea, but for most of us it’s a tougher decision. You might choose to brainstorm with your target market, or to test a limited number of names to see what appeals most to them. There are also marketing agencies that can help with branding.

What to consider when naming a business

There are a number of things to consider when naming your business. We’ll explain each point in more detail below.

  • How do you want your business to be perceived?
  • Should you use your own name for your business?
  • Abbreviations and initials
  • Does your business name need to say what you do?
  • Can you find a suitable and available domain name?
  • Can you find a suitable and available business name on Companies House?
  • Should you trade mark your business name?

How do you want your business to be perceived?

Humour and wordplay can be memorable, but they aren’t right for everyone. Obviously it will depend on your industry and the service you provide, but you‘ll likely know both well enough to be able to gauge what’s appropriate (and whether your clients are the type who’ll appreciate it). A playful business name for a graphic designer, for example, feels far less jarring than it would from a solicitor – so just use common sense.

Bear in mind too that humour can also be very personal, so always be very aware that others may not see the same joke that you do. The same goes for deliberate misspellings of business names.

Should you use your own name for your business?

Accountants and solicitors often name their businesses after the partners as their professional reputation demonstrates the expertise that the business is selling. If you’re a consultant selling your expertise, then it may be appropriate to name your business after yourself, so that there’s absolute clarity over what people are getting and only one name to search.

If you want a business that’s bigger than just you, then it’s better to use a less personal name.

Fred Bloggs Bank might not instill as much confidence as a more corporate name such as Bullion Bank but, if Fred Bloggs is providing expert consultancy, then you only want to deal with Fred.

You may also want to avoid using locations, such as the name of a town. Joe Bloggs Barnsley would not help a move into different geographical markets. On the other hand, if you make and sell a local cheese, or you sell local arts and crafts, the area name could be useful. The point is to make sure the name fits your growth goals.

Abbreviations and initials

Brevity and simplicity may also be important when it comes to being memorable. You might also choose to refer to your business by its initials so do ensure that they don’t spell anything rude and look out for inappropriate rhymes. There is also a debate - some feel that initials don’t deliver an emotional connection. But if you’re abbreviating from a long business name, perhaps that sounds more snappy (think BBC).

Does your business name need to say what you do?

I quickly changed my business name from Hudson & Co to Hudson Accountants after being asked for the umpteenth time whether we were solicitors.

If you have a straightforward service then it may help to include that in the title. Hudson Accountants left no doubt as to what services clients should expect, but Hudson & Co needed more explanation for a new business.

Can you find a suitable domain name?

The domain name is the address of your website. It’s what people can type into a browser to visit your website. Most businesses these days need a website, so it’s important that you have a simple, searchable domain name. Domain names are relatively cheap so it’s worth buying the domain name even if you won’t be using it.

Does your domain name have to match your business name? Not necessarily. You might choose instead to use a domain that describes what you sell, such as ArtsCrafts. Or perhaps the service you provide, for example LegalHelp.

Can you find a suitable name on Companies House?

Even if you intend to remain a sole trader you may wish to check that there will be no conflict with a limited company of a similar name. You can check this by searching the Companies House register with their name availability checker. Companies House is the UK’s official registrar or list of companies.

Should you trade mark your business name?

There’s a cost to trade marking your business name so it depends how essential the name is to your business and how big you want to grow your brand. If your business name is less important, but clashes with another, then you could simply change it.

If your business is very niche or local, then it’s unlikely that there will be any problem if somebody else uses a similar name for a different type of business, or elsewhere in the country or the world, because they are not competing with you.

Whilst a trade mark might deter some copycats, think about how simple it might be for another business to set up with a similar name anyway, and can you afford the legal action?

What’s the difference between a trading name and a legal business name?

Your legal business name doesn’t need to be the same as your business trading name but all your official paperwork must include your legal name. You might market yourself to the public as Super Widgets (your business name), even though your legal name is Fred Bloggs or Fred Bloggs Ltd.

You need to include your legal business name when registering at Companies House, but you don’t need to record your trading name. However, do check that your trading name doesn’t infringe on any trade marks. You can do that with the Government site, where you can search for trade marks by keywords, phrase or image.

Websites, invoices and certain paperwork must contain the legal name of the business, but this is often at the bottom in small print. Business trading names must not include ‘limited’, ‘Ltd’, ‘limited liability partnership‘, ‘LLP’, ‘public limited company’ or ‘plc’ unless that’s part of their legal name as registered with Companies House. It’s possible to have multiple trading names attached to a single legal entity.