How to register a business name – and how to protect it

Creative woman using laptop in studio

Wondering how to register a business name? You’ll be joining some of the 800,000 businesses that are incorporated every year in the UK, and it’s important to get this step right.

From legal obligations to trademark tips, this guide explores everything you need to know about registering and protecting your business name.

When to register your business name

You need to register your company name:

Do I need to register a business name as a sole trader?

No, you don’t need to register your business name if you’re a sole trader, but if you’re setting up as a limited company then this is an important part of the process.

Sole traders must register for Self Assessment with HMRC though. This means you can pay your annual tax bill.

Not sure what’s the right structure for your business? You can find out more about the difference between being a sole trader and a limited company in our comprehensive guide.

What is incorporation in business?

Incorporation is when you go through the legal process of registering your business as a limited company. It’s a type of business structure and involves legally registering your business name.

How to come up with a business name

You want your name to capture the essence of your brand, resonate with your target market, and stick in the mind of anyone who hears it.

While some of the best ideas come while out for a walk or in the shower, you can try our Business Name Generator for some amusing puns to get you started.

One thing you need to remember is to include ‘Limited’ in your business name (unless you’re a charity or community interest partnership).

Remember that your registered company name doesn’t have to be the same name that you trade as. In fact, the name you trade under shouldn’t include ‘Limited’ or ‘Ltd’ in the name.

Small business name ideas

Still not sure where to begin when it comes to naming a business? We asked 1,000 people all about what makes a good business name – and it seems the UK public just love a funny business name.


Think you can’t make a pun based on your business? We doubt it – check out comedian Darren Walsh’s excellent business puns in our video.

We also feature some creatively-named small businesses in our You name it. We insure it. campaign.

How to register a business

Follow these steps to register your new business name:

Check your name is unique

Companies House has a company name availability checker so you can make sure no other business has taken your name.

You don’t want to get into legal issues with a global brand by accidentally using their name, so here are some other quick checks you can do:

  • Google it – it may sound obvious but simply Googling your business name to see what comes up will help you research if another company has the name
  • search for a UK trademark – if another UK business has already trademarked your idea for a name, you’ll find it in the government database. Our guide on how to do a trademark search has more tips

It’s important to follow the above steps, as you may be asked to change your name if it’s considered too similar to another company’s.

Don’t be offensive

BBC Wales reported in 2021 some of the company names that had been rejected for being ‘potentially offensive’. Some of the rejected names include Fit as Fork Ltd, Pandemic19 Ltd, and The Great Big Corrupt Company.

Meanwhile, research from Simply Business found almost 57,000 business names have been rejected by Companies House since 2019 – with nearly half deemed ‘offensive’.

Avoid sensitive words and phrases

Sensitive words and expressions need special approval, such as chartered, foundation, and society. While some names are protected under specific legislation, including architect, building society, and physician. Wrongly using these names could be a criminal offence, so make sure you’re clear on what the law says when registering your name.

Register with Companies House

You can buy a company name and register your business with Companies House online. You just need to pay the £12 registration fee.

You’ll also register for corporation tax at the same time.

At this stage you’ll need to decide a registered office address and include a SIC code.

Once you’ve completed the online forms, it should take less than 24 hours for your company to be registered and legally exist.

For more information, read our step-by-step guide on how to register with Companies House.

Get a certificate of incorporation

After you register your limited company with Companies House, you’ll get a certificate of incorporation. This is available to the public and is the final stage to registering your business name.

Using your company name

Business names aren’t only about your brand identity, there are also certain responsibilities that come with registering a business name.

One important thing to note is that you must display your company name on a sign at your registered business address (unless you run your business from your home). The sign must be displayed in a place that’s easy to read at all times, including outside of your opening hours.

You’re also required to display your company name on all your company documents and marketing.

Protect your business name

While registering your business name with Companies House is a good start, it doesn’t necessarily mean that another business won’t use it.

For that reason you might want to register your name as a trademark. This comes at a cost (£170) but can be well worth it to stop someone else stealing it.

As soon as you have your name, it’s also a good idea to:

  • buy the domain name – even if you’re not ready to create a website yet. This means no one else can take your domain name for their business
  • sign up to social media platforms – similar to your domain, creating profiles with your business name will stop anyone else getting there before you do
  • create your Google Business Profile (formally Google My Business) – if you’re a business that makes contact with customers in business hours (like a shop or fitness studio) then you can create a Google Business Profile so it shows up on Google Maps and can boost sales

Getting legal advice

Business law is a complex topic, so if you’re not sure of anything it’s important to get legal advice from a professional.

If you have legal expenses insurance as part of your Simply Business policy, you have access to a number of useful services through DAS Businesslaw (you’ll just need your voucher code found in your policy documents to register).

DAS has a legal advice helpline, available whether you’re facing a serious legal issue or just want to check something with an adviser.

Do you have any unanswered questions about company registration? Let us know in the comments.

More guides for small business owners

Looking for self-employed insurance?

With Simply Business you can build a single self employed insurance policy combining the covers that are relevant to you. Whether it’s public liability insurance, professional indemnity or whatever else you need, we’ll run you a quick quote online, and let you decide if we’re a good fit.

Photograph: pikselstock/stock.adobe.com

Catriona Smith

Catriona Smith is a content and marketing professional with 12 years’ experience across the financial services, higher education, and insurance sectors. She’s also a trained NCTJ Gold Standard journalist. As a Senior Copywriter at Simply Business, Catriona has in-depth knowledge of small business concerns and specialises in tax, marketing, and business operations. Catriona lives in the seaside city of Brighton where she’s also a freelance yoga teacher.

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