As a contractor, freelancer or small business, you may consider operating through a limited company.

In order to establish your limited company, it must first be registered with Companies House, the UK registrar of companies which is accessible to the public. As part of the process, you will be required to name your limited company in accordance with legal guidelines set out by HMRC.

When naming your limited company, you should consider the connection this establishes with your sector, trade, and service offering.

The long-term viability of the name should also be considered, as if you expand or begin trading overseas, the name should remain appropriate and relevant to your company and customers.

By futureproofing your company name, it guarantees cost efficiency as you will be able to commit to marketing collateral and a dedicated domain, saving you time and money in the future.

Similar or ‘same as’ names

You are unable to use a name which is already in use, so before committing to your chosen company name, check that it is available.

Names that are similar or “same as” are those which appear only slightly different due to adding a punctuation mark or a special character.

Names that are similar in meaning can also be rejected if this bears similarity to an existing name, for example, Computers4U or Computers4you.

It’s worth noting that when the registrar compares your company name to others, punctuation, ‘www’ and connecting words such as “or” and “and” will be ignored.

If your company is able to obtain written confirmation of no objection from the business you may be in conflict with, you will be able to use a similar name.

And if the company is part of the same group, you will be able to use a similar name.

Existing trademarks

Your proposed company name should not breach any existing registered trademarks. If you are a contractor specialising in a particular platform, such as Java or WordPress, be vigilant in your official use of these trademarked names.

Limited or Ltd

You are able to pick between “limited” or “ltd”, which will sit at the end of your company name. If you pick “limited”, you are able to shorten this to “ltd”, whereas if you pick “ltd”, you will not have the ability to lengthen this.

Becoming a limited company can help add credibility to your brand, a degree of professionalism and function as a selling point. Other businesses may be more likely to do business with you if you are a registered limited company.

Specialist terms

You cannot use names that are of an offensive or sensitive nature as this could offend, confuse or mislead a customer. If you feel that the use of such a word is warranted, you will be required to attach additional documentation, as without this, your request will be rejected.

You are unable to use terms that denote a connection to a professional regulatory body or governmental departments. In order to do so, you will require permission from the end party responsible for the regulation of the term. For example:

  • Dentistry: General Dental Council
  • Insurance: Financial Conduct Authority
  • Parliamentary: The Corporate Officer of the House of Lords and House of Commons
  • Accredited: Department for Business, Innovation & Skills
  • Fund: Financial Conduct Authority

The full list of sensitive terms and the responsible party can be found here.

Professional bodies also govern the use of terms, such as architect and nurse. This is to protect the reputation of the profession and to ensure that accreditation is not falsely claimed.

How can I pick a suitable company name?

Naming your limited company can feel like a drawn-out process without the appropriate guidance and inspiration.

Here are our top tips when naming your company:

  • Futureproof – If you are intending to cross into different areas in the future, decide on a name which won’t shoehorn you into one sector.
  • Tone – If you are in a sector which relies on credibility and reputation, use a professional tone to show that the customer is in trusted and knowledgeable hands. If your industry demands creativity and imagination, use a personable and light-hearted tone. Use wording which denotes the intended emotion and impression. For example, the names of challenger banks in comparison to high-street banks are instantly more vibrant, unique and informal. When comparing Tide, Monzo and Revolut against HSBC, NatWest & Royal Bank of Scotland, the challenger banks are easily distinguishable from the high street banks, as intended.
  • Marketing – Many determine their company name after checking the availability of the domain name. Pick a name which is easy to insert into a search engine if you intend to establish an online presence. Ensure that the URL spelling is appropriate, as once separate words are put together, the URL can appear confusing.

What’s the difference between a company name and trading name?

A company name is a legal name which is used to register the business, ending with either “limited” or “ltd” which shows your tax entity.

The trading name is the name used to refer to your business when actively trading, this is without the “limited”, “ltd”, “limited liability partnership”, “LLP”, “public limited company” or “PLC” at the end.

How can I stop others from using my company name?

Register your company name as a trademark in order to prevent other businesses from using it. After obtaining a trademark, you will be able to take legal action against anyone who uses your company name. The trademark process takes around four months if there are no objections, and the trademark lasts 10 months.

The trademark is only active in the UK, so if you decide to trade in the EU or internationally, you will be required to undertake a separate trademark registration procedure to protect your brand.

What does ‘passing off’ mean?

Passing off is when another business uses your company name to financially benefit from the goodwill associated with your brand in a fraudulent manner. This form of misrepresentation can damage the reputation of your business. The law of passing off protects your business from other businesses mimicking your company name to profit from association.

How can I change my company name at Companies House?

You can apply for a name change at Companies House following the registration of your company. An NM01 form is required to give notice of a name change. You’ll need the following details to complete the form:

  • Company number
  • Original company name
  • New company name
  • Special resolution
  • Signature

You may decide to apply for a name change due to a rebrand or a change of services. You will be able to trade with your new company name once the Certificate of Incorporation on Change of Name has been received as confirmation.

Choosing the name of your limited company can be a challenging process for even the most creative of minds. By taking the guidelines set out by HMRC into consideration, you will be able to swiftly complete the process and officially begin trading through your limited company.

Keith Tully is a partner at RBR Advisory, an advisory platform for businesses seeking restructuring advice, turnaround support and commercial finance

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