There is an often-used question, “What’s in a name?” and if you were to ask commercial lawyers, they would tell you that when it comes to business, there is a lot in a business name. If you consider the most iconic brands in the world, it is their name that people are attracted to long before they think about the product.

At a lower level, and for businesses within Australia, knowing how you choose your name and the legalities that follow are essential. The last thing you want is to pick a name and then start trading, including having all your promotional material paid for and a sign company installing your logo out the front, only to receive notice that you are using the registered name of another business.

Business Name Criteria

You can avoid all the angst that would result by following the simple steps to have a business name you can call your own. For a start, registering a business name is not always necessary, as if specific criteria exist; it is not required. Those criteria are:

  • The business is a partnership, and the business name is that of the partners, e.g. Michal Smith and Peter Jones
  • You are operating as a sole trader, and your business name is your first and surname, e.g. Michael Smith
  • You previously registered a company (Australian Company Name – ACN) and you are trading using that name, e.g. Mike’s Pizza Parlour

If those criteria do not apply, you must register your business name. The first step is to obtain an Australian Business Number (ABN) or at least be in the process. ABNs are obtained from the Australian Business Registrar (ABR).

Business Name Restrictions

One of the mistakes some business owners make is wasting time choosing a name already registered. Another mistake is including words within their business name that are prohibited. To avoid the first of these, you can run a search with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). Their search engine has every registered business name in the country, allowing you to see if the name you want has been taken.

One crucial point to be aware of is that registering your business name does not remove your liability for trademark infringement. This is why we also recommend you search for existing trademarks in case your chosen business name has already been registered.

As for prohibited words, they include those which imply an association with the Australian government,  a foreign government, or the royal family, for example. Words you cannot use include ‘federal’, ‘commonwealth’, and ‘charitable’. Other restricted words and expressions which give a false impression of the business are also prohibited. These words include ‘incorporated’ and ‘university’.

Registering Your Business Name

Once you are satisfied that the name you have chosen for your business has not been previously registered and does not fall foul of the restrictions on business names, you can now report it. This is done at the Business Registration Service (BRS) of the Australian Government. The simplest method is to register your business name on their website.

Fees are payable, and you can pay for one year or three years. Be aware that you must renew your business name’s registration every year or three years, depending on your original choice. Renewal also incurs a fee like the cost of first registering a business name.