Company names should be carefully considered before being registered with Companies House. Ideally, you should choose something that effectively conveys the purpose of your business and reflects its values.
You must also ensure the name you choose has not been registered by another company and is permitted by law. This can be done easily by using 1st Formations’ name-check tool, Companies House’s WebCheck or Companies House Service (formerly known as Companies House BETA).
You cannot register a name that is the ‘same as’ or ‘too like’ the name of an existing company, unless you get permission from the existing business, or your company is going be part of the same group. Furthermore, you must be aware of ‘sensitive words and expressions’ before applying to form a company.
There are a number of words and phrases that are prohibited, unless permission is granted by the Secretary of State at Companies House. Such words and expressions include anything that:
- Is likely to be misleading or cause offence to the public.
- Indicates an association with an official body or administration.
- Suggests business pre-eminence or a particular status.
- Makes reference to a specific location, which again could imply connection to an official body or administration (e.g. “England” or “Scotland”).
A final factor to consider is whether your desired name has been used in the past by another business. This may not pose any problems unless the dissolved company has a bad reputation or a negative credit history.
Checking availability, company name rules, and other things to consider
You can check the availability of a proposed company name free of charge using our online name-check facility. This can be found at the top of this article or on our homepage. Simply type in a name and our system will compare it against the names of all existing companies on the register.
If it is unavailable, make adjustments until you find an available name you are happy with. If you have to provide additional documentation to support the use of sensitive words or expressions, our name-check facility will tell you.
Remember to include ‘Ltd’ or Limited’ at the end of the name. This is a legal requirement of all limited companies, unless they are eligible for exemption.
Rules and regulations
- Do not attempt to register a name that is identical or very similar to the name of another company. This could be misleading to the public and may cause your company to be mistaken for another business.
- Avoid using any words that might imply a connection with Her Majesty’s Government or a public authority, a devolved government or administration, the Royal family, or any other kind of official body or organisation.
- Be wary of including words and expressions that could suggest business pre-eminence or a particular status.
- If you wish to include a geographical location such as ‘London’, ‘England’, ‘United Kingdom’ etc in a name that would otherwise seem to suggest it is an official body or authority, you must obtain approval from the Secretary of State at Companies House.
- Your company name should not contain any words that could be considered offensive, nor should the name itself be offensive in nature. Any allusion to criminal activities in prohibited.
- If you wish to include a word that implies a specific profession or function, you must provide evidence that you are legally qualified or permitted to offer such services, and obtain prior approval from the relevant body.
- Check the Trade Mark register to ensure the name does not infringe on an existing trademark.
Other things to consider
- Choose a name that is easy to remember and effectively communicates the types of products or services your business offers.
- Check the availability of domain names beforehand. It’s extremely beneficial to register a domain name that matches your company name. This creates a strong online presence for your company, provides professional continuity for websites and business emails, and makes it easy for people to find you online.
- If you are likely to change your primary business activities or expand geographically at a later stage, avoid using a name that restricts your company’s activities or location.
- Choose a name that will stand the test of time, in terms of relevance and appeal.
How to register a company name at Companies House
The only way to register a company name is to incorporate a limited company at Companies House. The most popular and affordable way to do this is through an approved company formation agent like 1st Formations.
The entire process is carried out online. Registrations are normally approved within 3-6 working hours. Companies are ready-to-trade immediately and all registered details are displayed on public record thereafter.
Alternatively, if you simply want to protect a company name or register a company for later use, you can make your new company dormant by contacting HMRC after incorporation.
Using the words ‘Limited’ or ‘Ltd’ in a company name
All private limited companies are legally required to include ‘Limited’ or ‘Ltd’ at the end of their name (although companies registered in Wales can use the Welsh equivalent instead, ‘Cyfyngedig’ or ‘CFY’).
There is no legal difference between the full word and the abbreviation. You can form it with either version and interchange between the two at any time after company formation.
The version you choose during the formation process will be displayed on your certificate of incorporation but you can use either version on your stationery and signage, as long as you display the full company name.
Removing ‘Ltd’ from an existing company name
If you would like to apply for an exemption for an existing company, a special resolution must be passed by the members at a general meeting or by written resolution. If at least 75% of the voting members agree to the change, Form NE01 must be filed with Companies House with a copy of the resolution.
You’ll also need to meet additional requirements as regards to your articles:
- Your objects should be explicitly outlined (and be for the promotion or regulation of commerce, art, science, education, religion, charity or any profession incidental or conducive to any of those objects).
- The payment of dividends should be forbidden and all income earned be put towards meeting the company’s objects.
- All assets on winding be provided to another body with similar or charitable objects.
How to protect a name
If you have a company name in mind but you are not quite ready to start trading, you can simply form a new private limited company for the purpose of protecting the name. The new name will be reserved within 3 working hours and you can begin trading as soon as you’re ready to do so. Our digital package is ideal for this purpose.
Can I register a name that is similar to an existing company name?
The Companies Act 2006 prohibits a company being registered with a name that is the ‘same as’ or ‘too like’ the name of an existing limited company on the register. These restrictions are in place to avoid confusing the public by making it difficult to distinguish between two different companies.
If you discover that the name you wish to register is very similar to another company name, you will not be allowed to use it unless your company will be part of the same group as the existing company, or it has no objections and provides a letter of non-objection.
What are ‘sensitive’ words and expressions in limited company names?
There are a number of words and phrases that UK company law defines as ‘sensitive’ due to their potential to mislead, confuse, or offend the general public. Such words and expressions require permission from the Secretary of State at Companies House, or another governing body, before they can be included in a limited company name.
You can access the current full list of sensitive words and expressions and find details of the relevant authorising bodies whose permission must be sought to use any sensitive words or expressions.
Can I use a dissolved company name?
There are no legal restrictions preventing the use of a dissolved company name. If this is something you are considering, you should first ensure the dissolved company does not have any negative associations attached to it, otherwise, your business could be mistaken by members of the public and credit organisations for the dissolved one. This could have a detrimental impact on the reputation and success of your new business.
Conduct research on the dissolved company
It is strongly recommended that you carry out extensive research on the company that previously traded under the name you plan to use. Whilst your company will be issued with a unique company registration number, this doesn’t really mean anything to consumers and creditors who may have bad relations or unresolved issues with the dissolved company.
On the other hand, the dissolved company may have a glorious reputation, which could work in your favour.
You may be able to find out lots of useful information by simply entering the company name into a search engine.
You should also consider viewing the dissolved company’s last set of accounts, which will be available online through Companies House WebCheck. A credit check is worth considering as well – this will tell you whether it has any County Court Judgements (CCJs).
How do I find out if my company name has been rejected by Companies House?
This depends on the way in which you submit your company formation application to Companies House:
Companies House services
If you apply to incorporate using Companies House postal application, you will be notified by post if your proposed company name is rejected. If you apply online via Companies House WebFiling, you will be notified by email, but you will have to resubmit your application by post.
1st Formations services
If you use our services, you will submit an application online and any problems will be immediately brought to your attention via email. If your company name is rejected or you are asked to provide supporting documentation, you will find out immediately and be able to resubmit your amended application and/or supporting documentation online.
This should not cause any significant delay to your application and there will be no additional charge for resubmitting an application or for filing additional documentation. the registration could still be approved on the same day.
Do I have to trade under my company name?
Provided the name you trade under is not too similar to that used by another company (or a name that is otherwise subject to restrictions or prohibition), you can trade under a different to the one you have registered at Companies House.
The same precautions should be taken when deciding on a trading name as when choosing your official name. You still need to display your registered name where your trading name is shown (see ‘Where must I display my company name?’ below).
How to change a company name
A limited company may change its registered name by passing a special resolution or by means provided for in its articles of association.
Change of name by special resolution
A special resolution is a binding decision made by the members of a limited company. To pass a special resolution, a 75% majority vote must be achieved – the percentage relates to the number of voting shares in favour of the resolution, not the number of members who favour the change.
A special resolution can be passed by a show of hands or ballot at a general meeting of the shareholders, or by written resolution.
When a special resolution is passed, a copy should be delivered by post to Companies House. Form NM01 and the required processing fee can be submitted online.
Change of name by means provided for in the Articles
Directors may change the name of a company if the articles of association grant them such power – the approval of members is not required in this instance.
The directors will usually hold a board meeting to discuss the matter – if a change of name is agreed, the directors should file Form NM04 with Companies House. Unlike the NM01, this cannot be carried out electronically and must be submitted in paper form.
You must continue using your existing company name until Companies House issues a ‘Certificate of Incorporation on Change of Name’ and updates the public register.
As soon as your new name has been approved and you receive your certificate, you should notify HMRC and all company contacts – directors and shareholders, employees, clients, suppliers, landlords, banks and lenders, etc.
It is also imperative that you update all signage, stationery, and, online and promotional material with the new name as soon as possible.
What is a change of name certificate?
If you change your company name at any time after incorporation, Companies House will issue a certificate that confirms the new name and the date from which it takes effect. This is called a ‘Certificate of Incorporation on Change of Name’, or simply a ‘change of name certificate’.
Other than the name, the details on this certificate will be exactly the same as the details stated on your original certificate of incorporation, including your company registration number.
Where must I display my company name?
The Companies Act 2006 requires all UK limited companies to display their full company name on all forms of business stationery, including:
- Company letterheads.
- Compliments slips.
- Order forms.
- Notices and official publications.
- Promotional material.
- Business cards.
- Business letters, order forms (hardcopy or electronic) and websites must also display details of a company’s place of registration, the company registration number (CRN), and registered office address.
You must also display your full company name at your registered office address, unless it is primarily used as a private residence.