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Choosing a Business Name

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Choosing a business name is one of the legal or administrative tasks you will have to complete before you open your doors for business.

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Unless you are planning on operating as a sole trader using your own name, you will have to select and register a business name for your business. 

In many jurisdictions, carrying on a business without a registered name is a criminal offense. Choosing a business name will be an important part of defining your unique business identity and needs to be chosen with care.

Selecting a business name is not a process that you want to rush through as if you make a mistake or decide later that the name is not appropriate it can be quite expensive to change it.  Once you have a short list of possible business names you will need to check if the names are available in your jurisdiction and whether there are any issues with registered trademarks.

A short list is a good idea, just in case the name is already being used by another business or if the name is the same or similar to an existing trademark.  If you get the all clear from your research you can go ahead and register the your chosen name.

Options When You are Choosing a Business Name

Using Your Own Name

It is relatively common for people to use their own names or initials as a business name. This method of naming your business enables your customers and your suppliers to readily identify the owner of the business and may lead to more personal relationships with the people who can have a long term impact on your business.

In Australia, if you are trading under your own name (as a sole trader) you do not need to register a business name but it might be advisable to do so anyway. A registered business name can come in handy when you are trying to open a business bank account, register for an Australian Business Number (ABN) or trying to source debt funding.

There at least one serious limitation to consider if you use your own name though. Businesses which are named for the founder may be difficult to grow or to sell because of the brand association with the founder.  And the association is difficult to erase if you are able to sell the business and the new owners do not do well (just ask Dick Smith).

It may also be difficult for potential customers to work out just what your products or services are without additional information.

Examples of businesses named for their founder include McDonalds, Dick Smiths and RM Williams.

Descriptive Business Names

Generic descriptive names may make it easier for potential customers to work out what your business does but may not be all that attractive (i.e. they don’t stand out from the crowd).

Examples of business with descriptive business names include International Business Machines (IBM) and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).

Combined Founder and Descriptive Business Names

To overcome the disadvantages of founder or descriptive business names you can combine the two. This allows you to be identified as the business owner and to describe what your business does all in one name.

Examples of combined business names include Dell Computers and Ford Motor Company.

Brand-able or Cute Business Names

If you want to create a brand around your business name you can choose a name that currently has no recognizable meaning (a nonsense word) or select a descriptive synonym of what your business is or does. For example using Debits & Credits as the name for a bookkeeping service.

Examples of nonsense names that now have a recognizable brand include, Google and Amazon.

How to Check if Your Choice of Business Name is Available (in Australia...)

Australia has a national registrar for business names maintained by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.  One of the features on their site is a search function that enables visitors to search the database to check the availability of a proposed business name.  

If the name is available, you can apply to register the business name on the site. 

What About Your Domain Name?

Choosing a domain name is a whole other kettle of fish, and there are different aspects of making your choice that you need to consider.  Bear in mind that you might not be able to secure the same name as your domain name, and if you want them to be the same, you may need to revisit your choice of business name or be a bit creative with the domain name.

You also need to be carefully about how you go about searching for that perfect domain name as not every site providing domain searches are totally trustworthy.  

Domain squatting is one of the more common disreputable business practices you might encounter and believe me, it is extremely frustrating to find that the perfect domain name that you just searched is no longer available unless you are prepared pay a premium for it and wait 60 days to be able to transfer it to your hosting provider.

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