A Guide to Selecting Your Business Name
Choosing the right name for your new business is an important decision. You want a name that will draw potential customers, help clients identify your company and build your business image. A name that is easy to remember and provides information about the products or services you offer is always a good choice.
If the name of your business is or will be different than your own name, it must be registered with the Companies and Personal Property Security Branch before you start using it.
Who must register?
The Business Names Act applies to all types of businesses that operate under a name other than the owner’s name.
The law requiring you to register your business name with the Companies and Personal Property Security Branch applies to:
- Sole proprietorships (one owner) carrying on business under a name other than the owner’s name
- Partnerships carrying on business under a name other than the names of the partners
- Corporations carrying on business under a name other than their corporate name.
In the case of sole proprietorships and partnerships, any business name other than the owner’s name must be registered. For example, if John Smith conducts business as "John Smith", he won’t need to register the name. But if he operates as "John Smith’s Shoes", he will have to register the name.
As another example, if John Smith and Jane Brown operate a partnership as "Smith and Brown", registration is necessary.
Corporations must register all names they use to carry on business if these are not the same as the corporate names. For example, if "Jane Brown Shoes Limited" also operates as "Brown´s Shoes", the business name must be registered.
What is the purpose of registration?
Registration places your business name on the public record maintained by the Companies and Personal Property Security Branch of the Ministry of Government Services. This allows consumers and business people to find the owners or the principals behind a business name. This sort of information is important to people trying to settle disputes. Anyone may search business name information contained on the public record during regular hours for a fee. Registering a business name does not give you exclusive use of the name.
Choosing a business name
Choose a distinctive name to stand out from your competitors. Make sure the name is not misleading or confusing in its description of the goods or services you will provide.
What cannot be used in the nameWhen choosing your business name, remember that certain words or expressions cannot be used.
- Words or expressions, in any language, that are obscene or objectionable in nature.
- Words that imply the business is a different type of organization. For example, you may not imply that a sole proprietorship is a partnership. You may not use numbers or words that imply the business name is a corporate number name.
- The words "college", "institute" or "university" cannot be used without the written consent of the Ministry of Education, if using the word implies the business is a post-secondary institution.
- You may not use the words "limited", "corporation" or "incorporated" or their respective abbreviations Ltd., Corp., and Inc.
- Words with restricted use under federal or Ontario laws.
- Words that imply the business is associated with the Crown or the Government of Canada, any province of Canada or any municipal government may not be used without the written consent of the appropriate authority.
- Names of individuals may not be used unless they have or had a material interest in the business activity and have given their written permission. If an individual is not living, and the name is used within 30 years of the date of death, the written consent of the estate must be obtained.
It is your responsibility to make sure your business name does not contain any of the above words or expressions unless proper consent has been obtained.
Business names must be registered in the Roman alphabet (English, French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, etc.) and may contain numerals.
The following marks may also be included in the name, but may not be used as the first character:
! " # $ % & ' ( ) * + , - . / : ; > = < ? [ ] \ ^ ` .
Business names composed of characters from other alphabets must be translated and registered in a language using the Roman alphabet.
A business name in a language other than one using the Roman alphabet may be used in advertising and signs, but the business name must also be displayed in a language using the Roman alphabet.
For example, a business that registers its name in English may have letterhead or signs in Chinese characters as long as the English name is also displayed at the place of business.
Before making a final decision on your business name and ordering forms or stationery, you may want to know if someone else is already using the name. You can do a simple name search that will allow you to check up to 3 names for $14 plus tax. A more accurate NUANS search would be advisable if you want to be absolutely sure that your name is not used by someone else. You can order a NUANS here. The cost is $39.95 plus tax per each name you search.
The registrant of a business name who feels he/she has suffered damages because someone else used the same name or one that is deceptively similar can take legal action. The Business Names Act provides for payment of minimum compensation of $500 if damages are proven.
No special powers
Registering a name does not give a business any special powers. If you need licences, other registration or certification to run your business, registering your name does not exempt you from obtaining the necessary documents. It is up to you to learn what laws apply to your business. A lawyer or business consultant can help you do this.
Register your sole proprietorship
Register your partnership
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