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Companies sometimes use a different name to their official Companies House registration, or use the prefix “T/A” (trading as) in front of their name. It might sound unnecessarily complicated, but lots of businesses do this for perfectly legitimate reasons so we thought we’d explain what it all means.

What is a company name?

This is the name of the business registered at Companies House, and the name used on any legal documents relating to it. Whatever other names the business uses, the real name of the company is the one that you find at Companies House.

The name you use to register must not suggest some sort of official recognition or accreditation, such as “The Government news company”. It’s also important for company names to be unique – they can’t look or sound like another company. For example, a company couldn’t register its name as “Media Marketing Eight” if there was another existing company called “Media Marketing 8”.

And of course, a company name can’t be offensive!

What are trading names?

A trading name doesn’t actually need to be registered anywhere, and they don’t have the same restrictions that choosing a company name can have. Using a trading name can be particularly helpful if your official company name doesn’t accurately reflect your brand.

They’re also useful if the business changes over time. Updating the trading name is often quicker and simpler than going through the process of changing the company name registered at Companies House.

If you have a lot of distinct brands that you wish to distinguish from one another then trading names may help here too. In fact, a single company can have many trading names, or they can just choose to use their company name as their trading name. For example:

  • A company might buy another business and absorb it into its existing operations. The name of the acquired company will have value in terms of customer loyalty and name recognition, so the new owners might decide to continue using it.
  • A business could set up different departments, perhaps as a way of producing and delivering a particular service. Each department could use its own trading name so that it is clearly distinguishable from other products or services.

There’s no requirement to choose a trading name, and if you don’t want to use one then you can stick with your company name.
 

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Where do trademarks come into it?

People often mix up company names, trading names, and trademarks, but it’s important to note that filing a trademark is an entirely different thing altogether.

A trademark is a way of registering a name as Intellectual Property (IP).

 
The requirement to register a unique name at Companies House does mean that company names are, to some extent, protected against other companies opening up with the same or a similar name. That doesn’t protect you from a sole trader or partnership starting up with a similar name though.

To protect consumers from dealing with businesses that are passing themselves off as another company, registering a Trademark can stop people piggybacking in this way.

A trademark can be a name, a logo, or even a colour or series of colours; anything that can distinguish your goods or services from a competitor.

How do I choose a business name?

Choosing a name for your business can be much harder than you might think! It will be the first thing people hear or see when they come across your business and it should leave people with a good first impression if you hope to turn some of them into customers.

No doubt you’ve already got a few ideas and are weighing up the pros and cons of each, but in our experience there are a few factors which are worth considering before you place that order for branded coffee cups.

Is it available to trade under?

If you’re setting up a limited company then you’re not allowed to use a name which is the same or too similar to one already registered, so your first stop is a quick search of the Companies House register.

Is the web domain available?

Not every business needs a website, but if you’re planning to have one then it’ll need a domain (also known as a URL or web address). The closer it is to the name of your business, the easier things are for marketing it.

Remember to check that your business name still reads well when it’s written out without spaces, and you don’t accidentally create anything inappropriate.

Is it available for social media?

Take a look on social media websites to see if your company name is available throughout the various social platforms you might want to use. If it’s available then great, but you might need to reconsider your options if not.

Is it easy to remember?

You want a name that’s easy to remember, spell and pronounce. Make it as simple as possible for people to remember, talk about, and search for your company online. Don’t pick something inappropriate or weird just for the sake of it. You won’t get the right kind of attention.

Does it reflect your brand?

Does the name you want reflect your brand or persona, or give some information about the business you’re running? If you have a keyword related to your business, then including it will help people identify what you do.

Which name should I use where in my business?

You can use your trading name on any documents you like, but in some cases you must also make it clear which company is the owner or operator of that style of trading.

For example, you might have a business bank account with the name “ABC Company Ltd, T/A Media Marketing Eight”. This is more important nowadays as direct payments must be made to a specifically named account.

You must show your official company name on:

  • Company websites
  • Invoices, credit notes and demands for payment
  • Receipts
  • Business letters
  • Contracts and legal documents
  • Company notices such as general meeting notifications
  • Bills of exchange, promissory notes, endorsements, and order forms
  • Cheques signed by or on behalf of the company
  • Letters of credit
  • Applications for licenses to carry on a trade or activity
  • Registrations with government departments such as HMRC

 
Learn more about our online accounting services for businesses. Call 020 3355 4047 to chat to the team, and get an instant online quote.

About The Author

Beth-Anne Karellen

I'm an experienced and fully AAT and ACCA qualified accountant, who is enthusiastic about helping business owners succeed. I also love cooking and needlepoint (at different times!). Learn more about Beth.

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