Regulation on company names

For start-ups, naming your company should be the easy part of the operation. The rules on company naming, however, are far less intuitive than they should be. With some amendments coming into force on 31 January 2015, this blog gives an overview of the rules and the changes.

The Same As

Companies House won’t register a new company name that is “the same as” another company’s name. When considering whether a name is “the same as” another, Companies House applies some rules of interpretation (e.g. ignoring capitalisation and spacing) and disregards particular characters, words and expressions.

This can lead to some unexpected results - for example “Start-ups PLC” is “the same as”:

  • Star Tup Limited
  • Ltd
  • ‘S’ Tart-Up Company PLC

To help businesses see whether their proposed company names are “the same as” an existing company’s without having to learn the rules, Companies House has created a tool called WebCheck. Using WebCheck before submitting an incorporation application form to Companies House can help avoid unnecessary rejections.

As from 31 January some words are coming off the list of terms that Companies House will disregard – these include “Group”, “Services” and “International”, so Startups International Limited can be incorporated even if Startups Limited already exists.

Sensitive words and allowed characters

Certain words are deemed to be “sensitive”, and using them in a company name will require permission from a particular body. In practice, companies do not go to that expense – they usually stay away from use of “sensitive” words. Again, as of 31 January the government has slashed through the list of sensitive words, shortening it by over 20 words including “Holding”, “National”, “International” and “United Kingdom”. For a list of all the sensitive words (and who to ask for permission to use them), Companies House’s guidance provides a handy guide.

As of 31 January, the list of characters allowed in a company’s name is also expanding to take in more accented letters, and symbols including “£”, “$” and (drumroll please) “@”.

Other considerations

Even where a name is not “the same as” another, and contains no sensitive words (or the appropriate permissions have been received), a pre-existing company with a similar name may object to the registration and (if Companies House supports the objection) force you to change your name. Again, WebCheck can help you steer well clear of any existing names and avoid the risk.

Checking the availability of the appropriate domain names prior to registering a company’s name is also a good idea – there’s no way to “reserve” a company name though, so once you’ve done your checks don’t hang about!

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

DWF and Startups

Your startup needs legal advice from people who understand your challenges, and can adapt and respond as quickly as you do. Our team has deep experience advising startups, and excellent sector coverage.

Find out more