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Concise guide to choosing company names

Once upon a time choosing a name for a limited company was simple and straightforward. You telephoned (or wrote to) a company formation agent who would supply you with a list of pre-registered "off the shelf"companies with a variety of nondescript names, comprising either a single word or with a descriptive suffix. The time taken to incorporate a new company at Companies House was around a month hence the rise of the company formation agent with their stock of off the shelf companies, even though they were usually stored in a filing cabinet. Once the customer was in possession of their off the shelf company some of them would proceed to undertake a name change and in the interim proceed to trade with the off the shelf company name.

We've come a long way since then and now you can have the name of your choice within 3 hours using the premium service and in any event within 24 – 48 hours depending on how busy Companies House is. Interestingly, as the pace of company formation speeds up there is still a healthy market for off the shelf companies and the ratio of off the shelf companies to own name companies has remained reasonably static in the past few years, no doubt as a consequence of the instant society.

Well, that's the potted history, so here are a few useful pointers for you when deciding what name to use in your limited company formation.

Essentially it divides into 2 categories , the business aspect and the legal aspect.

From a business point of view there are a number of considerations when you set up a new limited company to avoid problems and make an optimal choice :-

  • Describing what you do within the limited company name
  • Using your own name, with or without a description of the trade
  • Making up a name that has nothing to do with you or the trade but sounds prestigious
  • Including a geographic element in the limited company name
  • Ensuring the name is easy to spell and pronounce especially over the telephone
  • Nowadays it is important to ensure that there an available variant for use on the internet
  • Inventing a name that is meaningless but attracts attention
  • Your trade body may have regulations to which you are bound

From a legal point of view there are a number of considerations when you set up a new limited company to avoid problems :-

There are several pitfalls that can catch out even the best prepared person who has undertaken extensive research on available company names.

If somebody has already which you subsequently infringe with your limited company name they may be able to force you to change. A check at the trademark registry will be of use but it is impossible to cover every angle and can be very costly.

Companies House rules prevent you from using certain words that are termed "sensitive". This list changes periodically and most of the time these words can be used if certain criteria are met.

There are also restrictions on forming a limited company with a name that is too similar to one already on the register.

You can also be forced by the Companies House adjudicator to change your limited company name after it has been set up if an objection is made that your name is too similar to another.

One problem that you may encounter is a claim by another business that you are "passing off", meaning that your name is in their opinion too similar to theirs and misleading to customers. If they are not a limited company it is not possible to check any official register and be guaranteed to avoid this pitfall.

You can check company name availability here on our website or call 0800 085 45 05 and our trained and experienced staff will help you.

Where accountants buy from Freephone 0800 085 45 05
Landline0161 798 9999
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