Wondering how to register a name for a business in the UK? You’re in the right place.
You must register a business name when setting up a limited company. You’ll also need a business name to open a business bank account.
Here, we explain how to do it, how much it costs, and the rules around naming a business in the UK. Ready? Let’s dive in.
How to Register a Company Name
Officially registering your company (also known as “incorporation”) is a major milestone when deciding to launch your own business. And while it might seem like a daunting task, it’s actually very straightforward.
Here, we’ve broken it down into four simple steps:
- Choose your business name
- Check your chosen name is unique
- Register with Companies House
- Complete your registration + the next steps
Step one: Choose your business name
Unless you’re clear on what you want to call your business already, this step can be a little tricky. Almost 800,000 new companies are registered in the UK every single year, so finding a unique name that captures your brand and connects with your target audience can be a tall order.
Sometimes, the best ideas strike when you least expect them, but if you’re struggling to scribble a shortlist of names, you might want to try an online business name generator (like this one).
Have some fun with it at this stage because we’re about to get into the strict rules of business names in the UK!
UK business naming rules and regulations
Once you’ve made a list of potential business names, it’s time to whittle them down. And the first step to doing that is making sure they comply with the Companies House naming rules.
Note: Companies House is the Government agency responsible for incorporating new companies and maintaining the UK companies register.
When you’re naming a limited company:
- You must include the word “Limited” in the name (unless you’re a community interest partnership or a charity).
- The name cannot be deemed offensive. So no swear words or nasty remarks. Even a sweary-sounding pun won’t make the cut (Fit as Fork LTD was rejected by Companies House in 2021).
- The name cannot contain sensitive words or expressions without special approval. For example, words like “accredited,” “foundation,” “society,” and “chartered” can’t be used without permission.
Here’s the complete list of sensitive words, starting with the letter A.
Heads up: Using one of these words in your business name without approval is a criminal offence. Don’t risk it!
Step two: Check your chosen name is unique
Following on from step one, once you’ve got a few names you like (and they meet the Companies House rules), the next step is to check if the names are unique.
Fortunately, Companies House makes this easy with a company name availability checker.
The results will point out any exact matches (meaning you won’t be able to use that name) or any that are “too like” an existing company.
- Exact match names also include names with a minor difference from an existing company name. For example, “Hands UK Ltd” and “Hand’s Ltd” are considered the same as “Hands Ltd” by Companies House.
- Meanwhile, the Companies House example of names that are too alike is “Easy Electrics For You Ltd” and “EZ Electrix 4U Ltd”.
You might still be able to use a name that’s “too like” another company. However, if the company complains and Companies House agrees the confusion harms their business, you’ll need to change your business name.
Bottom line: If your chosen name is too similar to an existing business, it’s probably better to return to the drawing board than risk rebranding further down the line.
Step three: Register with Companies House
Once you’ve found a unique business name that ticks all the boxes, you can begin registering your company with Companies House.
You’ll need the following information before you get started:
- town of birth
- mother’s maiden name
- father’s first name
- telephone number
- national insurance number
- passport number
After you’ve completed the online forms, it should take around 24 hours for your company to be legally registered.
How much does it cost to register a business name in the UK?
The cost of registering a business in the UK varies depending on how you do it:
- If you do it online, it costs £12. As mentioned above, it’s usually processed within 24 hours.
- If you want to do it by post, instead, it costs £40 and usually takes 8-10 days before it’s completed.
- And if you want to fast-track your registration, you can pay extra. Same-day registration costs £100, but the online forms must be completed by 3pm that day to qualify.
Step four: Complete your registration + next steps
After successfully registering your limited company with Companies House, you’ll receive a certificate of incorporation. This document is publicly available and simply confirms the company legally exists. It shows the company number and date of formation.
Finally, all that’s left to do is open a business bank account and register your company for corporation tax (you’ve got to do this within three months of trading). Read more about corporation tax here.
How do I register my business name as a sole trader UK?
In short, you don’t. It’s not compulsory to register a business name as a sole trader, only when setting up a limited company.
Instead, as a sole trader, you must register for Self Assessment with HMRC. Doing so lets you pay your annual tax bill.
Find out how to do that here: How to Register as Self-Employed in the UK.
Of course, you can still give your business a trading name when you’re a sole trader. You just have to follow the same strict rules around sensitive words and offensive language mentioned above.
Also, you can’t use any variation of “limited,” “LTD,” “limited liability partnership,” “LLP,” “public limited company,” or “PLC” in your trading name, as this would imply that you’re set up as a particular legal business entity when that’s not the case.
- Not sure what’s the right structure for your business? We dig into the pros and cons of sole trader vs limited company here.
Do you have to register a small business as a limited company?
No. If you’ve started a business without registering it as a limited company, you’re trading as a sole trader.
Remember, you’ll still need to tell HMRC you’ve gone self-employed. Otherwise, you could face penalties later if you haven’t registered to pay tax through Self-Assessment.
Can I just register a company name without starting a business?
Yes. If you’ve found a company name you like (and it’s unique and within the rules), you can secure it by registering it as normal and operating it as a “dormant company”. A dormant company is one that doesn’t trade or receive any income.
Note: Even if your company isn’t trading, you’ll still need to file annual accounts with Companies House. Learn more here.
To recap, registering a business name in the UK might seem like a daunting task, but it’s actually incredibly easy. The hardest part is finding a unique and memorable name that fits your brand, resonates with your customers, and meets the Companies House naming rules.
Once you have that, it’s a simple case of completing some online forms, paying £12, and waiting for your certificate of incorporation.
And once you’ve officially registered your business, you’ll need to make sure you’re protected before you start trading. Browse our full range of business liability insurance and find the cover you need.