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How to Register Your Business Name

Great business names are hard to come by, and just about anything you think of is taken by another company. That’s why it’s important to spend the time to select a business name that is both meaningful and authentic to you. We’ve got some helpful hints for choosing a great one, and how to register your business name too.

Start with a Business Name Search

The purpose of a name search is to discover any business names that are already trademarked by other companies. Ownr’s name search tool allows you to perform unlimited name searches for a one-time cost. That may sound like too many, but we urge you to take advantage of as many as you can think of. Why? First, you just don’t want to get in any legal trouble by choosing a name that’s already been trademarked or registered by someone else.

Second, you want your business name to be distinct and stand out from your competition. Choosing a distinct business name is one of the most effective ways to make that happen.

Finally, give yourself as many options as possible. In the event that the business name you select is not accepted by the government, instead of starting the process again, you’ll have plenty more to consider.

How business name search works

To make sure your business name is unique, the verification process goes through three checkpoints:

1) Trademarked names
2) Corporate Business Names
3) Business Registration in the province you’re registering

Ownr scans through each of these checkpoints to provide a list of both exact and similar name matches. After viewing similar matches, it’s up to you to decide on whether or not to go ahead with your business name. If one of the business names you search is called “Alien Surf Dogs,” Ownr will filter similar matches for Alien Surf Dogs. Alien Surf Cats or Extra Terrestrial Surf Dogs may show up in the search, at which point you’ll make the final decision.

Ownr’s name search tool can help you from inadvertently registering a business name that is trademarked or already belongs to an existing business.

Distinctive and descriptive business names

Business names that stand out have two traits: they are distinctive and descriptive.

Distinctive Business Names

A distinctive name is what distinguishes your business from others. If your business name is Suburb Plumbing, then “Suburb” is the distinctive element that separates your business name from other plumbing businesses.

Descriptive Business Names

Using the same example, if “Suburb” is your distinctive element, “Plumbing” is your descriptive element. It describes the function of your business so consumers understand the products and/or services offered by your business.

In some provinces, it’s absolutely necessary that you include both a distinctive and descriptive element to your business name. Even if you’re in a province where this isn’t required, it’s strongly recommended that you consider this naming convention because doing so makes for a strong business name and increases your chances of standing out.

Choosing your business name

Get out your pen and paper (or whiteboard and dry erase markers), because it’s time to find some inspiration for your business name. There are a few ways to do this exercise, so let’s get started!

Use your founder story

Why are you starting a business? Is there an emotional story behind why you’ve decided that now is the best time to become a business owner? Take a company like Oracle, for example. Co-founders Larry Ellison and Bob Oates were working on a secret project for the CIA with the same name. They thought it was cool so when it came time to name their company, Oracle it was.

Consider IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad’ naming method. He paired the first two letters of his name with the first two letters of Elmtaryd Agunnaryd, which are the names of the village and farm where he grew up.

Put two words together

Many business names already exist, so you’ll definitely have to be creative. One way to do this is by combining two simple words together to form something distinctive. Think of companies like DropBox or Wayfair. Combining words is effective because there’s already familiarity among consumers.

It’s ok to make a name up

There’s another way to set yourself apart, it’s not often done and that’s making up a new word. Take Haagen Daaz. Looks Danish. Sounds Danish, right? Well, not really. The founders meant for it to sound Danish and feel kind of “old-world,” but the actual word Haagen Daaz doesn’t mean anything in any language. It’s completely made up.

You can do the same thing. While the benefit of creating a new word means your business is unique, the risk is that there may be a disconnect between your business and this undescriptive name.

How to register your business name

The process for registering your business name will depend on whether you’re registering your business name as a sole proprietor or a corporation and what province you’re in. For instance, it’s possible to incorporate your legal name as a business name in Ontario. Not every province allows this, for instance in the province of Alberta you’ll need to add in your business activity to include your legal name for your business name.

Sole proprietorship business name registration

Registering a business name for a sole proprietorship is more simple than a corporation as it requires less paperwork and is less restrictive. If you’re doing business under your own name, you’re not required to register. It’s only if you’re looking for a unique business name that registering as a sole proprietor becomes necessary.

Once you register your business name as a sole proprietor, you’ll immediately be asked to provide the rest of your business’ information. Such as business activities (what does your business do), industry you operate and address.

Corporation business name registration

Registering your business name as a corporation requires a few more steps than doing so as a sole proprietorship. Once you get past the business name search and settle on a unique name, you’ll need to answer additional questions about why you decided on your business name, including questions about the language of the business name and whether or not it’s an initial.

Typically the following business day, you’ll be sent a NUANS Report. This is a six-page document that lists any similar business names and trademarks to the one you chose. If you’re comfortable and believe your business name is distinct, congratulations! You’re now ready to incorporate with your business name.

Common questions about registering a business name

Let’s clear up some myths about registering your business name:

Can I only register a business name if my business generates a certain amount of money?

False! Regardless of how much you earn, you need to register your business name. It’s that simple. The only exception is if you are doing business in your legal name without any employees.

If I register my business name provincially, can I operate anywhere?

False! If you want to do business and collect money from anywhere in Canada, then you’ll need to register your business in every province. If you’re incorporating, then you have the option of doing so federally. The protection you get from registering a business name is limited to the province where you register it.

If another business name is not in my jurisdiction, then can I use the business name?

Not exactly. If a business name is trademarked, then that name is off-limits, period. It could be trademarked in Nunavut and you’re operating in Ontario. It is still off limits.

Now, if another name is registered under a sole proprietorship and it’s out of your jurisdiction, you have a decision to make. You can trademark a name without registering it as a business. However, you cannot register a business with a name that has been trademarked by someone. Unless you own the trademark to that name. We recommend that if you think of something unique, but know that registering a sole proprietor name alone doesn’t offer the same legal benefits as incorporating.

When looking to name my business, Google is a good enough name search tool – right?

False! Please don’t be fooled. Simply Googling your potential business name isn’t thorough enough. Try some of the brainstorming techniques we’ve mentioned to think of something unique. You’ll thank yourself later. When you use a tool like Ownr, you’ll be confident that the name you choose isn’t taken and that it is properly registered.

Does my business name and domain name have to match?

False! Your business name and your website are two completely separate things. They do not have to have the same name.

If you can’t think of a good business name, can I use a number?

True! You can incorporate using a business number that will be assigned to you by the government. A numbered company gives you the exact same rights and protection as if you created a named company. That said, if you’re planning to work with customers ideally you should name your business vs. using a numbered business.  

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