What is in a name?

Is it possible to register a trading name for an existing business?

Sole traders and partnerships

You can trade under your own name, or you can choose another name for your business. You don’t need to register your name.

You must include your name and business name (if you have one) on official paperwork, for example invoices and letters.

Sole trader names must not:

  • include ‘limited’, ‘Ltd’, ‘limited liability partnership’, ‘LLP’, ‘public limited company’ or ‘plc’
  • be offensive
  • be the same as an existing trade mark

Your name also can’t contain a ‘sensitive’ word or expression, or suggest a connection with government or local authorities, unless you get permission.

Limited companies

You can trade using a different name to your registered name. This is known as a ‘business name’.

Business names must not:

  • be the same as an existing trade mark
  • include ‘limited’, ‘Ltd’, ‘limited liability partnership, ‘LLP’, ‘public limited company’ or ‘plc’
  • contain a ‘sensitive’ word or expression unless you get permission

You’ll need to register your name as a trade mark if you want to stop people from trading under your business name.

You cannot use another company’s trade mark as your business name.

Trading names are useful as they facilitate the creation of a separate brand. As noted above there is no formal registrar of business names, but if you want to stop others from using your business name you will need to register it a trade mark.

Companies could also register a second limited company, with the required trading name, and keep it on the shelf, dormant. You will have to pay to incorporate the new company, and file annual, dormant accounts and other returns, but no-one else will be able to register a company with the same name.

Registering a trade mark can be a drawn out and expensive process, but if you have good reason to protect your business name this may be a worthwhile investment. If you decide to do this, registering a trade mark does not preclude forming a company with the same name, and so a combination of the two would be a belts and braces solution.

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