How to select a business name

The eventual success of your business can be dramatically affected by the name you choose. Business names that may seem trendy and cutting edge today may seem dated and irrelevant tomorrow. You must also carefully consider how your business may evolve and into which new markets you may wish to expand. You also want to select a name that you may ultimately protect so that no other company can use it to sell similar goods or services to your potential clientele.

The ideal name will be composed of a couple of key elements. These elements are the distinctive and descriptive portions of your name. The descriptive is that portion of your name that uniquely identifies you to the world. The descriptive portion is that part of your name that identifies what it is your business does.

If you have an incorporated business, you also have a third element known as a legal ending which as the name implies appears at the end of the name. The most common examples of this element are INC. and LTD.(Not applicable for Business name registration of sole proprietorship and partnership.)

If you choose the name Dave's Hardware Inc, you would have a name with all three elements present.


You now have a name that meets the minimum requirements of all registration jurisdictions within Canada.

This name is not, however, very unique and registering a name like this may be somewhat difficult as it will very likely conflict with some existing business. To avoid this type of conflict, a unique or made-up word used as the distinctive portion of the name is best. A name like Fitastic Training Centre Ltd utilizes a created word that is less likely to find conflicts during the registration process.

Next best would be the use of an unusual word or combination of words. For example, Grime Busters Cleaning Service is an unusual combination of words that would have a high probability of being successfully registered without conflict. Of course, if this company was an incorporated business you would also need to add a legal ending.

It is important to remember that there are a huge number of businesses starting up every day across the country and literally thousands of people trying to decide on names for their businesses. With this in mind, it is not surprising that even the most unique names can sometimes find that there is an existing business with a conflicting name. This is why if you are planning on registering a business, be it proprietorship or incorporation, you should begin your process with a Preliminary NUANS name search.

The Preliminary NUANS name search is an inexpensive way to search across Canada to determine if there are any companies using your exact name. You will be able to search up to three names at once. Often, it is advisable to conduct one of these three searches on only the distinctive portion of your name to see which businesses, outside of your industry, are using names similar to your own.

If you receive a report that indicates there are no exact matches to your name and if you are concerned with the startup of a sole proprietorship or partnership, your search may end here. You may now proceed with the registration of your non-incorporated business. If you are availing yourself of the tax benefits and the asset protection offered by a corporation or if you simply want to have a greater certainty regarding your proprietorship or partnership, you may now prepare an Official NUANS report.

An Official NUANS report is a legally required element of your application for incorporation. This search details the corporations, proprietorships, partnerships and trademarks that are exact or similar to the proposed name of your company. As this report provides information not only on exact matches but also on names similar to your proposed name, its value is much greater than the Preliminary search even for sole proprietorships and partnerships. This report is more expensive, and only one name per report may be searched. Hence, it is recommended to still complete a Preliminary NUANS name search prior to your Official NUANS report.

You must now carefully analyze your Official NUANS report to see if there are any potential conflicts with your chosen name. In most provinces, the onus is on you to determine if you should proceed with registering your company's name. The government will only prevent you from registering exact matches and will generally allow even very close names that, while not identical, may effectively infringe on an existing company's name. You must be concerned that your name may be confusingly similar to an existing name in such a way that a client of the existing business could accidentally contact and purchase goods or services from your business thinking you were the established business. This would leave you vulnerable to potential litigation.

The last few pages of your Official NUANS search are the Trademark Report. It is critical to review this portion of your report carefully. Trademarks represent the ultimate legal protection you may obtain for your business name. They allow you to use the courts to protect your name, brands, logos and slogans from infringement by other companies selling similar goods and services. Obviously, if someone has taken this step to protect his or her business identity, you do not want to infringe on it, as the likelihood of litigation is very high. Qualifying for the added protection offered by a Trademark is another reason to ensure that you name is properly structured.

If you wish to utilize the Trademark process you must be careful not to make your name clearly descriptive. In other words, your name cannot simply describe what you do without a true distinctive portion. By avoiding the use of adjectives in the distinctive portion you may avoid this difficulty. Names like The Golf Club, Telephone Repair Inc., Plasma Televisions Ltd., and British Car Mechanics would all be examples of names that are clearly descriptive. While you may be able to register them, you would not be able to obtain the protection of a Trademark with this type of name.

If you have been able to choose a name that meets all the criteria discussed you have successfully begun the process of creating an identity for your business.


Learn More About Registering Your Business.