Choosing a name for your company is, weirdly, one of the biggest decisions you’ll make as a startup. It’ll encompass everything about your brand from your identity to your Twitter handle. It sounds like a lot to think about and, to be quite frank, it is. Here, we’ll guide you through the steps you should take when creating your company name and the restrictions you need to be aware of when incorporating a limited company in the UK.

Brainstorming

Whether you’re on your own or in a team, you should brainstorm ideas for your company name. Here you should jot down concepts that include your values, history, your services and/or products, and expressive words or phrases that you think your company will identify with. Don’t hold back any wacky ideas. Even the most bizarre names and phrases could spark another idea for your company name.

Take into consideration the industry you’re working in. Companies like Innocent focused more on the idea of something ‘good’ whereas Honest Brew incorporated part of their product/service into their name.

Personal tip: I’m a visual thinker and I think better on paper. I like to get a huge piece of paper or whiteboard and write as many things that come to mind as possible. Alternatives include a notebook or a digital document (e.g. Google Docs or Evernote). Make sure, whatever you choose to record your ideas, is sharable and editable.

Really stuck? Bring in an agency to help you.

Name searches

At this point, you should have a selection of names to choose from, but are they available? You can do this by using our real-time availability name checker on our homepage. Note that your name has to be unique and must not include sensitive or offensive expressions (we cover that further on in this article).

Another thing to consider is your domain name. It’s very likely that you will have at least a website to go with your company. Check if a domain name is available for your company name or something very similar to your company name (e.g. Marvel, the design tool, has the domain marvelapp.com).

Shortlist

Ok, you know which names are available to use and now comes the important part: your shortlist. Narrow down your successful company names to a maximum of 3 potential ones. At this point, you must carry out a Trademark check to ensure these haven’t been trademarked already. You can do this on the International Property Office website.

With all checks done, the decision is up to you. Think of memorability, logos, marketing, how it would look in advertising and, most importantly, which one is most favourable to you. The name should have impact.

To make sure you’ve got the right name, I suggest you have some logo concepts drawn up to help visualise your future startup.

Rules and regulations

Unsurprisingly, there are some restrictions and limitations when you’re naming your company. First and foremost, it must be completely unique (hence the name check). Secondly, it cannot be offensive, obtain misleading information or contain sensitive words. Here are a few things to keep in mind when creating your company name.

Limited or Ltd?

If you are forming a limited company, you’ll have to choose whether you want the word Limited or Ltd. as a suffix at the end of your company name. If you are in Wales, then the suffix Cyfynedig or Cyf. must be chosen. The suffix you choose is a personal choice and will have no effect on your company.

The rules vary for companies limited by guarantee, LLPs and PLCs.

Sensitive words

The Royal Family

You cannot use any Royal title that gives the impression that your company is connected to the Royal family. This includes Her Majesty, Prince, Duchess and even the surname Windsor (or any other Royal household name). When appropriate, you can get written permission by way of Royal Warrant in order to use the above. This can only be granted by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office.

This also applies to any visual imagery including emblems, coats of arms and images associated to the Royal Family, regardless how distant the tie to them is.

Qualifications

If you do not have the qualification, don’t claim that you do. This includes any professional suffices. Below are examples of qualifications you are prohibited from using if you do not have the official qualifications:

  • Doctor/M.D.
  • Professor
  • Commissioner
  • Dental/Dentist
  • Chartered
  • Health Visitor
  • Insurer
  • Midwife/Midwifery
  • Medical Centre
  • NHS
  • Nurse/RSN/SEN
  • Parliamentarian
  • Regulator
  • Registrar
  • Underwriter

Official bodies

You cannot have a company name that suggests you’re affiliated with an official body (e.g. HM Govt). You also cannot allude to being affiliated with any ministry, department, local or national public body or authority.

Common examples

Other examples of sensitive words are listed below. Note, this list is not exhaustive.

  • Accreditation
  • Association
  • Audit Office
  • Bank
  • Benevolent
  • British
  • English/Scottish/Welsh
  • Charitable
  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Co-operative
  • Federation
  • Friendly Society
  • Foundation
  • Police
  • University
  • Fund
  • Trust

Offensive words

You cannot use offensive language in your company name. Your company should not offend anyone regardless of their gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. Whether these are swear words or degrading language, choose your company name to be non-offensive.

Dissolved company names

You can use dissolved company names, but it is worth doing some research beforehand. Any names with bad reputations could be harmful to your business. Check out County Court Judgements (CCJ) and, if you can, have a look at their financial statements for the last couple of year they traded.

Other points

  • Your company name has a maximum limit of 60 characters including spaces and punctuation
  • The use of accents over letters, umlauts, numbers, percent signs (%) and the @ symbol are all acceptable
  • If your company name is essentially your website domain name, you must not include WWW (as in World Wide Web)

Register

After you’ve toiled away to find your company name, it’s time to register. You can either set up your company right away and get trading, but if you aren’t ready yet, then set up a dormant company. That way, no one can nick your perfectly crafted company name and you won’t be pressured into trading straight away.