Registering your company name

What’s in a name? For most companies a good or memorable name can be absolutely vital to success, and getting one registered is one of the first jobs a founder should do when they know what they want to call themselves.

Making your name an official, real entity is a psychological step that says you believe in the business and the message – and that you’re going to make it happen. It also stops other companies with similar ideas from stealing your name, offering a layer of legal protection.

All companies must follow the Business Names Act 1985 when choosing their title, while Company names (see below) must be registered at Companies House and comply with the Companies House Act of 1985.

Sole traders don’t actually need to register their business name, although you’ll still need to register some form of name for self-assessment with HMRC within three months of formation. They cannot contain the terms Ltd, LLP (Limited Liability Partnership) or Public Limited Company. Limited companies on the other hand must have a unique name; the next section uncovers what you will need to do to check your name is unique.

How to register a company name in the UK

Check if another company has registered the name at Companies House by simply typing in your proposed company name. If the name is free, a message will tell you that ‘no exact company name’ has been found, and you can register a private limited company online using the link just below. Create an account and you will be given a SIC Code – Standard Industrial Classification of Economic Activities – which will be based upon the industry your business works within.

Other considerations:

  • As an aside you may also wish to see if any domain names relevant to your company have been taken. You’ll presumably want a website name without the hassle of having to approach a current owner of a site and try to buy their domain – if they’ll even sell.
  • Certain names that are offensive or sensitive are not allowed, and be careful not to make misleading claims in the name or link yourself to a bigger company that has nothing to do with you. For more information on how to choose a company name click here.
  • Names should not infringe on registered trademarks; a name that is very similar to, or parodies an existing company may lead the existing company to take legal action. Courts will take a number of factors into account, such as the size and location of the complainant; if your business possesses the same name as a small company 500 miles away you may not need to change your name.

What is a trade mark?

Protecting some of your own rights can be made easier if you can register a trade mark, using the Intellectual Property Office website. Simply input a few parameters and the site will bring up a string of potentially similar companies, if there are any. A mark typically protects brand names and logos on goods and services (as opposed to copyright which protects artistic work) – this is protected for ten years and can be renewed. There are a large number of forms applying to particular trade marks, and varying fees – a typical starter application costs £170, while a renewal is £200.

Registration can take four months, but if your application is successful you’ll be able to:

  • Take legal action against anyone that infringes on that trade mark without permission.
  • Use the Ⓡ symbol next to your brand.
  • Sell and licence your brand.

Before applying you may wish to learn more about what constitutes a trade mark, and what is not allowed. Note also that a trade mark only protects your brand in the UK.

How to change a company name in the UK

A company name can be changed at any time, but the correct process must be followed. One method is for members (shareholders/guarantors) to first pass a special resolution – it is also possible for directors to vote to change it without members’ approval. This is only allowed if this power is granted in the company’s articles of association – a legal document that contains the purpose of the company and the duties and responsibilities of its members. This document needs to be filed with the Registrar of Companies.

A Special Resolution can either be passed at a general meeting, or via a written resolution. A 75% majority vote of members must be reached. If this is achieved, confirmation in writing must be supplied. The company must then submit form NM01 within 15 days.

For a change of name by directors, form NM04 will be required. In either case, the form must be submitted to Companies House.

The new name can only be used once confirmation has been received from Companies House, who will then issue a ‘Certificate of Incorporation on Change of Name’. Once approved, the names must be changed on business bank accounts, websites, signage and stationery, but the memorandum and articles of association do not have to be updated.

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