Sole Trader, Partnership Names & Displaying Your Business Name

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Yellow Belt
It's much easier for you if you are operating as a sole trader or in general partnership. You can trade under your own name, or choose a different business name.

Sole trader and partnership names - the rules

If you decide to use a business name, there are a few rules to bear in mind. Even so, there are certain rules which you should follow. The name must not:

* be offensive
* include the words limited, plc, limited liability partnership, LLP or equivalent
* contain sensitive words and expressions, unless you've obtained permission to use them. Again, check the website or phone for further details.

Is anyone else using your proposed business name?

Before you decide to use your chosen name common sense suggests a bit of your time spent checking to see if it's already in use is well worthwhile. If a sole trader many miles away is using it, there may not be a problem. But, if another local business or a national firm is using it, you would be wise choosing a different name, even if you have both used your own personal names.

* Check local phone books, business directories and the Internet.
* Make sure that your proposed name - or something similar - hasn't been registered by a company. Use our interactive tool to search for an available company name and trade mark.
* Make sure that the name isn't too similar to a word or expression that has been registered as a trade mark. Big companies generally won't tolerate anyone else using their registered name, even if it isn't in the same line of business.

Sensitive words and expressions

There are some words and expressions that you must not use in a business name without official permission. These are words that might give a false impression about your business. They are known as sensitive words.

The rules about sensitive words apply to all types of businesses and fall into five main groups:

Sensitive words

Words that suggest your business is of national importance: British, Irish, Welsh, Scottish, English, National, International, European
Words that suggest a special status: Association, Authority, Chamber of Commerce, Chartered, Council, Institute, Society
Words that suggest a particular function: Charity, Insurance, Register, Trust
Words that suggest a specialised activity: Architect, Chemist, Health Centre
Words that suggest connections with government or royalty: By Royal Appointment, Parliament, Government, Royal, Queen, Prince

Displaying your business name

Your customers and suppliers need to know who they're dealing with. For this reason there are rules about displaying your company name. Until you're certain your proposed name is acceptable though don't go and get anything printed up, such as stationery.

You'll receive a Certificate of Incorporation, showing the company's registered name and number. This applies to limited company or limited liability partnership. This happens after registration is complete.

A sole trader or partnership must go through the checks required for sole trader and partnership names and take expert advice if necessary.

Displaying a limited company or limited liability partnership (LLP) name

* Your company or LLP name must be clearly shown outside every place of business - even a director's or partner's home if that's where the business operates from.
* Your company or LLP name must be included on all business letters, electronic business communications, orders, payments, invoices, receipts and other business documents.
* Business letters, external emails and order forms must also show the company's or LLP's registered address, number and place of registration.

The Companies Act 2006 introduced particular rules for displaying the company's or LLP's details on its website, which must now show:

the full name of the company or LLP
the registered office address of the company or LLP
the registered number of the company or LLP
the place of registration of the company or LLP
if the company or LLP is being wound up
A full version of the rues is available at Companies House Contact Centre.

Displaying a sole trader or partnership business name

Your business name, your own name, or the partners' names and business address must be clearly displayed:

* wherever you run your business and deal with customers or suppliers. So, if you work from home but no customers visit your premises there is no need to display these details.
* on all business letters, orders, payments, invoices, receipts and other business documents
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