New to the world of business? Whether you’re planning to operate as a sole trader or a limited company, coming up with a business name is a crucial part of the process.
In most cases, a new business needs to be named before it can trade effectively – though some sole traders use their own names rather than creating a unique brand name.
When it comes to building your customer base and providing a means of recognition, your business needs a creative name that captures attention. Think of the businesses you interact with on a daily basis: they all have memorable names that you associate with what they do.
When we say names are important, we mean it. Research group Nielsen states that a company or product name is one of a business's most valuable assets. If you establish a strong business name, it will:
- Provide customers with positive associations
- Give you an anchor to build your brand around
- Helps you build trust with customers and clients
- Makes your business appear distinct from competitors
- Aids with brand recall
This might sound dramatic, but it’s true: your business name can be the difference between success and failure, so you really need to put some thought into the process.
Fortunately, you’ve landed on this guide, where we’re going to run through everything you need to come up with a great business name and then register it legally here in the UK.
How to come up with a name: understanding conventions
The best way to start thinking of a name is to understand the various naming styles used across your local market and the wider business landscape. These generally break down into the following types:
Descriptive business names
This is a name that describes your products or services, making it clear what you do. They are clear and memorable, helping ensure customers understand your offer and can associate you with a product at a later date. Examples include Glaceau Smartwater, Pizza Hut and Lloyds Pharmacy.
Some businesses come up with names meant to evoke emotion or feeling. These names can be harder to build a brand around and require more storytelling, but they become more distinct and recognisable once established. Dove, the skincare brand, hopes to convey a feeling of purity, softness and innocence with its name.
Many of the world’s biggest brands use acronym-based names to establish a unique identity whilst also leaving room for context and description once the acronym is explored. IBM is a great example, an instantly-recognisable brand that also offers contextual information for what it provides when spelt out as ‘International Business Machines’.
Brands often use clever wordplay interactions to create a recognisable name. These names are usually based on twists of existing words, phrases and puns that show an audience what the brand represents. Examples include Whiskas, which plays on a cat’s ‘Whiskers’, or ‘Krispy Kreme’, a brand famed for doughnuts stuffed with creamy fillings.
- Our own name, Crunch, is an example of lexical branding– it’s associated with the phrase ‘crunching numbers’ to help audiences align our brand to accountancy.
Some businesses include location-based specifics in their name to help associate them with a country or region. Whilst this may be an effective way to appeal to people in your target area, it can limit your reach. American Express, for example, is a geographic brand name that some UK customers may hesitate to interact with as they will have assumptions about the brand’s primary interests being in the US.
Founders & families
Some companies are started and driven forward by a distinct personality whose name becomes crucial to the company. Ford, Chanel and Burberry are all obvious examples.
If you want to be entirely unique, you can choose to ignore all the options above and instead create an invented business name. Google and Exxon are good examples of invented names, as both aren’t based on any existing words or phrases and don’t convey any connotations around purpose or services. An invented name might be unique, but it takes a lot more work for these businesses to build brand recognition.
What type should you choose?
Though there are many different conventions to choose for your naming ideas, we’d recommend focusing on descriptive names that make your products/services or values clear to customers. The more ‘work’ a customer has to do to ‘get’ your name, the less likely they are to remember you unless you can invest in storytelling and marketing.
Characteristics of a good business name
So now you know the ideas behind name types, but we’ve yet to really nail down what makes a name effective. Here’s the DNA of a business name broken down into easy-to-understand chunks.
- Unique: First and foremost, you need a name to be unique. If you’re forming a limited company, you can’t use names that already exist, and if you’re a sole trader, you still want to trade with something unique to you. More on this further down in the legal section.
- Relevant to your brand: A descriptive brand name that has associations with your brand is the most effective way to establish brand recognition. It also helps form the cornerstone of your visual branding – your logo, colour choices and more.
- URL-friendly: Your business name will form the main URL for your website, so make it something people can memorise well enough to type into search bars or into the URL field of a browser. Long, complex names or those that use alternative characters and spellings are far harder to get right and can frustrate customers.
- Reflects your values: try to include some emotion or personalisation in a name where you can. A common example is a family business named after the founder and children with an “& Sons” suffix. There are over 17,000 UK businesses with the “& Sons” element, however, so you might want to choose something more unique (“& Daughters” is much rarer but instils the same family values.)
- Future-proof: names that are too tied to certain products or services can become outdated quickly. Rather than calling a business ‘Rob’s Laptop Repairs’, you would choose something more inclusive and general like ‘Rob’s Technology Repairs’.
Business name brainstorming techniques
So you know what makes a good name – but how do you come up with the initial idea? Here’s a quick process to help you brainstorm business name ideas and then check them for effectiveness.
- Consider your target audience. What do they want or need from your business? Write these down as a list of basic concepts. For example, if you were starting an accountancy business, you’d note down needs such as:
- “Do my taxes for me”
- “Help me with my payroll”
- “Make my business more tax efficient”
- Look into your competitors on a local scale and then on an international level. Even if it’s unrealistic and you never intend to compete with a large enterprise, noting down their names helps you avoid any potential copyright infringement and lets you consider what they do well. Once you have the names on a list, write a few thoughts next to each one about what you like or don’t like.
- Ask your family and friends what they think about when you tell them your business idea. Take note of the sentiment and keywords that crop up when you ask.
- Use a thesaurus or business name generator to explore variations on your service offering or products.
Once you’ve done all of the above, you should have some clearer ideas for names now. Once you have a few, you can move on to selecting the best one. To do that, you’ll need to run it through the following naming gauntlet to make sure it avoids pitfalls and problems down the line…
Avoiding business naming pitfalls
By now, you should have a list of names or at least a list of ideas and inspirations. Now, you can compare those ideas against the common problems a business name can encounter to help you refine your choice and pick something that’s effective and avoids these issues.
- Cut dull terminology to remain unique: so many businesses use empty, generic terms that mean nothing to consumers and make them sound too generic. ‘Solutions’, ‘Logistics’, ‘Service’ are all examples of this – none of them really drive any customer emotion, and they’re far too common.
- Check spelling and pronunciation: consider how your chosen business name will sound when spelt out or pronounced. Don’t forget about non-native speakers and accents, which can turn a normal pronunciation into something unsuitable for a business.
- Consider clarity: if your name idea is a clever take on wordplay or an obscure acronym, it might not be a good choice. Businesses should opt for a name that has a clear message and can’t be easily misconstrued or misunderstood.
- Clarity matters in your URL, too. So consider how characters such as g and q may look and how you can make your name as clear as possible.
- Look at domain availability: if your business name seems great, but you can’t use it for your website, it’s usually a no-go. You can, of course, use a shortened version or part of it for your URL, but this can be confusing for customers and is best avoided for a new business.
- Try it out with audience testing: once you have a name idea in mind, try and test it with your customers. Ask them for feedback and opinions, and be receptive to their suggestions. Often, customers will spot things you haven’t considered.
- When you’re gathering feedback, try to have a few names in mind to give customers something to choose from rather than forcing them into a generic ‘I like/dislike it’ response.
- Don’t overthink it: At the end of the day, although your business name does matter, a perfect option that ticks all the boxes might not be out there. It’s better to choose a name that you feel good about and can get behind than one you were forced to choose by a set of rules (like these ones!).
How to register a business name legally
Provided you’ve followed the guide so far, you’ll be ready to name your business. Before you can apply your name to your website, social media and branding, you’ll need to establish it in compliance with UK law, which differs based on how you run your business.
Sole trader business names
If you’re a sole trader, you have lots of freedom around naming. You can use your personal name or a derivative of it, such as ‘Rob’s Painting’, or create a unique business name distinct from your personal name, which is known as a ‘trading name’. Limited businesses can also have trading names, but more on that further down.
Some simple rules apply to sole traders using trading names. These are:
- They cannot include any phrases or characters that would confuse them with registered companies. No ‘limited’, ‘ltd’, ‘llp’ etc.
- No offensive words or phrases
- Can’t be the same as an existing trademark
- Can’t suggest any links to a government or local authority without permission
You’ll need to explicitly identify your trading name on any relevant documentation with a ‘Trading As’ statement. For example, a sole trader may include ‘John Smith Trading As Brilliant Builders’ on all invoices.
Sole Traders do not need to register with Companies House, so you won’t need to make your business name publicly available. This does mean, however, that your name is not protected in the same way as limited companies. To ensure you aren’t copied, some sole traders choose to register their name as a trademark.
Limited company business names
Limited businesses must register a name with HMRC. If approved, the name you have chosen will become incorporated and you can use the limited suffix in any permutation you wish. ‘Limited’ or ‘Ltd’ – the choice is yours.
If you register a limited company called “Dave’s Bouncy Castles”, any of the following would be acceptable:
- Dave’s Bouncy Castles Limited
- Dave’s Bouncy Castles LIMITED
- Dave’s Bouncy Castles Ltd
- Dave’s Bouncy Castles Ltd
- Dave’s Bouncy Castles LTD
If you choose to use our Crunch Formations service – it’s super easy and free if you get accounting from Crunch, then your name will be given the suffix “Limited”. However, any of the above variations are legally acceptable.
Trading name vs company name
Limited company names are like website addresses – there can only be one of each. If you want to set up Delicious Cakes Ltd, you’ll probably find some enterprising baker has already registered it. However, all is not lost.
Limited companies can use trading names in a similar fashion to sole traders, meaning that you can still trade as Delicious Cakes as long as you’re not infringing another company’s trademark. But how do you do this?
Very simply, actually. Unlike company names, trading names do not require registration. All you have to do is invent one, and make sure you’re not in breach of trademark (You can search for potential conflicts on the Intellectual Property Office website). At the bottom of all your paperwork (invoices, etc.) make sure you display your correct company name, like so:
Delicious Cakes is a trading name of Reconstituted Meat Desserts Ltd.
Trading names also allow you to have multiple functions for a single limited company. For example, you may be a freelance web designer who also does SEO work. Under the limited company Super-Duper Web Design Ltd. you could operate two trading names – Super-Duper Design, and Super-Duper SEO.
So, if some rotter has already registered your perfect limited company name, don’t fret – you can still use a trading name to keep hold of your identity! We cover this and more in our article: 'Trademarking a company - everything you need to know'.
Getting your business name out into the world
Once you’ve got your name, you’ll need to ensure it’s included in all of the potential ‘owned’ brand assets you can associate with your business. Follow these steps to get things underway:
- Stick to a specific font and spelling structure for your business name. If you use ‘and’ in a name, don’t suddenly start using ‘&’ on some of your assets.
- Design or commission a logo that accompanies your business name. Logos often use the name itself in them, though some are visual icons that sit separately from your name.
- Purchase your business’s domain name and make sure the URL is relevant to your brand name.
- Include your chosen name on any social media pages you want to set up.
- Make sure your name is correctly referenced on customer-facing material such as invoices. If it’s a trading name, make it clear – otherwise, use your registered name.
- Register your new name with relevant local business directories to expand your reach.
Thinking about starting a business?
Once you’ve got your name sorted, you’ll also want to set up your business website. Click that link for our step-by-step guide to help you get started.
If you’re considering a limited business, we can help you check to see if your name has been taken with our Crunch Formations Service. You can even go ahead and register as a Ltd company today.
You might also like to download our handy guide for limited company beginners. You’ll learn how forming your own company can save you time and money.
Find out the various ways to register and get up to speed with what responsibilities you have towards your limited company. A useful calendar displays all the important dates you’ll have to remember, such as when to file your annual returns and send your end-of-year accounts to HMRC.
Whilst you focus on your branding, let us take care of the complex financials associated with running your business. We are the UK’s most cost-effective online accounting service, with an award-winning Customer Service team and Chartered Certified accountants. Click here to learn more.