Your business name is the first thing a customer notices. Creating the right first impression is essential
Inspiration for business names can come from almost anywhere. Some names are playful, such as The Cod Father fish and chip shop. Others, such as The Village Bakery, are more functional. But all effective business names project a strong image that sticks in the mind of customers.
Business name ideas
Start by thinking about your target market - the people you want your name to make an impact on.
Ask yourself what kind of image you want to project. A law firm might want their name to convey reliabiity, while a digital agency might be looking for a company name with more personality. Some businesses aim for a functional name, others try to be more creative.
You want your name to help you stand out from the competition. What is it that makes you different?
Try brainstorming different ideas. Obvious ways to start off include thinking about:
- the product or service you offer;
- where you are;
- your personal name.
A practical name
Try to come up with a list of potential names. Come back to them later and reassess which still seem to work. Focus on how you think customers and potential customers might react.
Practical factors to consider include:
- Is the name easy to say? For example, when you answer the phone, or if a customer is recommending you to someone else?
- Is it easy to spell? Unclear spelling may make it difficult for customers to find you when they search online.
- How will your business name look on your stationery?
- Is the name memorable and distinctive?
The expert view
"The wrong name can project an unclear identity for your business, whereas a strong name can accelerate brand awareness," explains David Thorp, director of research at the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
"The safest bet is the 'does what it says on the tin' approach to business naming. Whatever style of name you choose, it should differentiate you from competitors. Naming your company A1 Cars may get you a listing at the top of the phone book, but customers will struggle to remember if you were AA Cabs or A Star Drivers next time they want to book a taxi.
"Names that restrict a company to its geographical location can create problems. Western Hotels became Western International and finally Westin.
"Using your personal name can be limiting, too, especially in a service industry where clients may feel they are not getting their money's worth when Mr Smith is no longer able to handle their business personally."
Choosing a name for a company
If you are setting up as a limited company, you will need to choose your company name as part of the process of registering the new company.
You cannot choose a company name which is the same as an existing company. That includes names with only minimal differences, such as changes to punctuation. Your company name also cannot be the same as someone else’s registered trade mark.
Avoid choosing a company name that is too similar to an existing company name or registered trade mark. Even if you are allowed to register the company, your choice of name can be challenged later. You could then face the expense of and disruption of renaming your business.
There are also more detailed requirements for company names:
- A company name must usually end with Ltd or Limited. There are equivalents for Welsh companies and for other forms of company such as a plc or CIC.
- Your name must not be offensive.
- You cannot normally use words and phrases which suggest a connection with the government (for example, ‘British’) without approval.
- Some words are restricted to particular types of business (eg ‘architect’).
Companies House publishes detailed guidance on incorporation and names.
If you are a self-employed sole trader, or if your business is a traditional partnership, you can use your own name(s) for the business. There is no need to register this name – there is no official register.
Whether you are a company, sole trader or partnership, you can also opt to use a separate trading name.
The rules for trading names are similar to those for company names. Again, the name must not be offensive or use sensitive words without approval. A trading name cannot include limited or Ltd.
If you use a trading name, you must also display your name, the names of the partners or your company name at your business premises and on your stationery.
Checking name availability
If you want to register a company, you should search the Companies House register. This will give you a list of similar company names that are already registered.
You should also check for existing trade marks.
- You can search for registered trade marks through the Intellectual Property Office.
- You can check for EU trade marks through the European Union Intellectual Property Office.
- You may want to get help from a trade mark attorney if you are thinking of registering your own trade mark.
At the same time, you should check whether your chosen name is available online. Ideally, you want to be able to register the name as a domain name for your website and email addresses. You may also want to use the name (or something similar) on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
How I chose my company name
Neena Trehan of Spa Fabulous explains how she arrived at the name of her business.
"I was trying to come up with a company name for two years before I decided on Spa Fabulous, and we finally opened the salon in February 2005. I first considered the name BeautyNT, because my initials are NT. Then I thought of having SpaNT as a take on SpaceNK, a chain of upmarket cosmetic shops, but I decided it would look too much like a rip-off. I knew I wanted something original that would stand out from the crowd.
"Inspiration came when I was watching the American television programme, Sex in the City, and they kept saying the word 'fabulous'. I really liked the association it had with glamour and luxury in the programme. Finally, I decided on Spa Fabulous because it's original and conveys the personality of my business.
"Before you commit to a name you have to make sure you can use it. A simple check on the Companies House website can tell you if someone else has registered your company name. I also bought the 'spafabulous.com' domain name for my website, after doing an online search through a domain provider.
"People remember the name Spa Fabulous, and it gets them interested. I use the same colours and fonts on my shop front, website and brochure which ensures that Spa Fabulous is a complete brand. It's a good sign that people walk into the salon and think it is a branch of a bigger chain - it shows I have the potential to grow. If I open more Spa Fabulous salons, they will all be part of the same easy-to-recognise brand.
"The name is really fun and funky, as well as being friendly, and I've tried to carry it through the business. The wording in my marketing is jargon-free and really conversational, as if someone normal is talking to you, not a beauty therapist.
"When choosing a name, make sure it fits with your business personality and what you are trying to achieve. Also, make sure it is memorable. Don't be afraid to think about your branding from the word go. Once you have settled on a name, live and breathe it like an ethos, and convey your business to everybody you meet. Also, consider how your business will grow with the name. Before everything I do now, I always think, 'Be fabulous'."