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Business names are no longer registered with any government departments. But there are laws about using certain names and disclosing certain details of ownership.

Before 1982 many business names had to be registered under the Registration of Business Names Act 1916. This Act was repealed on 26 February 1982 when new rules on business names came into force in the Partnerships Act 1981. This law was replaced by the Business Names Act 1985. This allows the Secretary of State to have certain controls over the name you choose for your business and what you must tell others about the ownership of the business.

Some words and expressions are controlled by other laws. These rules protect the rights to which persons may have in relation to names or words. (In law, ‘person’ includes individuals and partnerships.)

This information is a guide to the rules in the Business Names Act 1985. It is not a complete statement of the law. If you are unsure about any of the details, you should read the law yourself or consult a solicitor.

Any business names shown in this information for the sake of example are intended to be fictitious.

CHAPTER 1 Business names

1. What is a ‘business name’?

It is a name used by any person or partnership for carrying on business, unless it is the same as their own name.

2. What checks should I make before using a business name?

It is advisable to consult a solicitor before using a business name. You should also check local phone books and any relevant trade journals or magazines, to see if any other business is already using the name. If it is, you could face legal difficulties.

If you have any intention to trade goods or services, you would be well advised to ensure your business name does not conflict with a registered trademark. It does not have to be identical with a trade mark to cause possible conflict. Problems can arise if a name is judged to be confusingly similar. For further advice, including how to search the Trade Marks Register, contact the Trade Marks Registry of the Patent Office on:

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Telephone: 08459 500 505

3. Who does the Business Names Act apply to?

It applies to:

  1. a company which trades under a name which is not its corporate name, for example, ‘XYZ Limited’ trading as ‘Fish Antiques’;
  2. a partnership which does not trade under the names of all the partners;
  3. an individual who trades under a name which is not his or her surname. It makes no difference whether the individual’s first names or initials are added. So the Act would apply to Mr JQZ Singh if he traded as ‘Singh Antiques’ but not if he traded as ‘Singh’ or ‘JQZ Singh’.

4. What is meant by the Secretary of State having control over business names?

Names that include words or expressions that are prescribed by regulation require the approval of the Secretary of State before they can be used. There are also other terms whose use in a name may, in some circumstances, constitute a criminal offence. See the next few questions for more details.

5. Which names need approval?

Names listed in appendices A, B and C need approval to avoid the public being misled into believing that a company has a size or status that is not justified. Appendix A also lists broad guidelines on criteria that your business will need to meet for certain words and expressions. A name that gives the impression that the business is connected with Her Majesty’s Government or with a local authority will also need approval before it can be used.

6. What happens if there is a change of ownership?

When a business with a name that includes a prescribed word changes hands, the new owner must obtain further approval within 12 months to use the name. This applies whether the name was previously registered under the Registration of Business Names Act 1916, or approved under the Partnerships Act 1981.

7. How do I apply for approval to use a name?

If you would like to use a name that includes a word or expression listed in Appendix A you should write, enclosing any information that might help support your application, to:

For businesses in England or Wales
Business Names Section
Partnerships House
Crown Way
CF14 3UZ

For businesses in Scotland
The Registrar of Partnerships
Partnerships House
37 Castle Terrace

All telephone enquiries: 0870 33 33 636p.>

Approval will only be given if the information you supply shows that the business meets the relevant conditions at the time of your application or shortly afterwards.

If you want to use any of the expressions listed in Appendix B, you will need to write to the ‘relevant body’ to ask if they have any objection (and if so, why) to your use of that expression. Enclose a copy of any reply you have received from the relevant body when you write to Partnerships House Cardiff or Edinburgh to ask for approval to use the name.

If the name that you have chosen gives the impression that your business is connected with Her Majesty’s Government or a local authority, you must not use it without the written approval of the Secretary of State. If you do want to use this type of name, you should write to the Business Names Section at Cardiff or Edinburgh, giving as much detail as you can to support your application.

In such cases the Secretary of State’s decision will be sent to you in writing after all the supporting information has been considered.

Approval by the Secretary of State to use a name is confined to the use of certain words or expressions. Such approval does not extend to a company’s aims and objectives.

The use of words and expressions listed in Appendix C might be a criminal offence. If you wish to use them in a business name, you should write to the appropriate body and consult a solicitor. The Secretary of State has no power to approve or reject such names which are not covered by the Business Names Act 1985.

CHAPTER 2 Disclosure rules

1. Do the disclosure rules apply to all businesses?

If the Act applies to you (see chapter 1, question 3) then you must comply with all the disclosure rules.

For example, if Mr W Jones trades as ‘W Jones Bakery’, then the disclosure rules of the Business Names Act apply.

Disclosure rules also apply to incorporated partnerships that trade under a different name, for example, ABC Foods Limited as ABC Foods.

Incorporated partnerships must also comply with the disclosure rules in the Partnerships Act.

2. What details must be disclosed about a business?

You will need to disclose (as appropriate):

  1. the corporate name; or
  2. the name of each partner; or
  3. the individual person’s name; and
  4. in relation to each person named, an address at which documents can be served.

3. Where must this information be shown?

You will need to show the information clearly in all:

  1. the places where you carry on your business and where you deal with customers or suppliers;
  2. business letters;
  3. written orders for the supply of goods or services;
  4. invoices and receipts;
  5. written demands for the payment of business debts.

Appendix D gives some examples of ways in which you can show the information on your stationery. As long as the details are ‘clearly legible’ they can be handwritten or printed.

4. Must it be displayed in a particular way?

As long as it can be easily seen and read, it does not matter how you show the information. (An example of a notice is given in Appendix E.) In large premises, you may need to think carefully about the size of the notice and where you display it to make sure that all your customers and suppliers will see it. You can put up more than one notice if you wish.

Do not send a copy of your display notice to Partnerships House.

5. Must the information be given to anyone else?

If asked for, the names and addresses that must be disclosed must also be given immediately, in writing, to anyone with whom you are doing business.

Names that suggest a banking activity

Following the repeal of the Banking Act 1987, company names that include bank, banker, banking or deposit no longer need approval. However, using words that suggest a banking activity implies that the person using the name is carrying on a banking business and is therefore accepting deposits - a regulated activity under the Management Services and Markets Act 2000. Therefore, the person would normally need to be an ‘authorised person’ or to have exemption under the Act.

Use of a banking name by a person who is neither authorised nor exempt under the Act could be material to whether an offence has been committed under section 24 of the Act. A person may, however, be able to establish that the way that he carries on his business means that those who deal with him would not understand him to be an authorised person.

It should not be assumed that a decision by us to register a particular banking name means that its use in certain circumstances would not contravene section 24. If you are in any doubt, you should seek independent legal advice.

6. What if there are a lot of partners - must all the names be disclosed?

If the business has more than 20 partners, you need not put all the partners’ names on your business documents. However, you must give the address of the principal place of business and say that a full list of the partner’ names and addresses can be inspected there.

7. What happens if I do not comply with the requirements?

You commit a criminal offence if you use a business name that requires prior approval, and you have not obtained that approval.

Similarly, you are committing a criminal offence if you do not disclose the business details that the Act requires.

Remember, if you do not make your business details available, or you do not display them, you may not be able to enforce a contract that you have entered into.


You will need the approval of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry before any of the following words or expressions (or their plural or possessive forms) is used in a business name. More detailed information is available from the Business Names Section at Partnerships House Cardiff or Edinburgh.

(a) Words which imply national or international pre-eminence:

British International Scottish
England Ireland United Kingdom
English Irish Wales
European National Welsh
Great Britain Scotland  

(b) Words which imply business pre-eminence or representative status:

Association Council Institution
Authority Federation Society
Board Institute  

(c) Words which imply specific objects or functions:

Assurance Friendly society Post office Trade union
Assurer Fund Reassurance Trust
Benevolent Group Re-assurer  
Charter Holding Register  
Chartered Industrial & provident society Registered  
Chemist Insurance Re-insurance  
Chemistry Insurer Re-insurer  
Co-operative Patent Sheffield  
Foundation Patentee Stock exchange  


Words or expressions in the following list also need the approval of the Secretary of State. If you want to use any of them in your business name you will need to write first to the relevant body to ask whether they have any objection to your use of the word or expression in your business name. If and when you apply for the Secretary of State’s approval to the use of the name, you should state that you have written to the relevant body and enclose a copy of any reply you have received.

Word or Expression

Relevant Body for
partnerships intending
to have registered
office in England or Wales
Relevant Body for
partnerships intending
to have registered
office in Scotland
Charity, Charitable Head of Status
Charity Commission
Woodfield House
Taunton TA1 4BL
For recognition as a
Scottish charity
Inland Revenue
FICO (Scotland)
Trinity Park House
South Trinity Road
Contact Lens The Registrar
General Optical Council
41 Harley Street
London W1N 2DJ
As for England and
Dental, Dentistry The Registrar
General Dental Council
37 Wimpole Street
London W1M 8DQ
As for England and
District Nurse,
Health Visitor,
Midwife, Midwifery,
Nurse, Nursing
The Registrar &
Chief Executive
United Kingdom Central
Council for Nursing,
Midwifery and Health Visiting
23 Portland Place
London W1N 3AF
As for England and
Health Centre Office of the Solicitor
Department of Health &
Social Security
48 Carey Street
London WC2A 2LS
As for England and
Health Service Penny Turner
Head of Branding
Department of Health
Room 230B
Skipton House
80 London Road
As for England and
Police Pauline Laybourne
Briefing and Honours Team
CRCSG Change and Support Unit
3rd Floor A
Fry Building
2 Marsham Street
The Scottish Ministers
Police Division
St Andrews House
Regent Road
Edinburgh EH1 3DG
Polytechnic Department of Education
and Science
Sanctuary Buildings
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3BT
As for England and Wales
Department of Health
Area 423
Wellington House
133-135 Waterloo Road
London SE1 8UG
As for England and
Royal, Royale,
Royalty, King,
Queen, Prince, Princess,
Windsor, Duke,
His/Her Majesty
(If based in England)
Linda Henshaw
Royal & Hereditary Branch
of the Crown and Devolution Division
Department for Constitutional Affairs
Constitutional Policy Division
6 th Floor - Point 6B
Selbourne House
54 Victoria Street London
SW1E 6QW(If based in Wales)
The National Assembly for Wales
Crown Buildings
Cathays Park
Cardiff CF10 3NQ
Douglas Boyd
Protocol Unit
St Andrew’s House
Regent Road
Special School Department for Education
and Employment
Schools 2 Branch
Sanctuary Buildings
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3BT
As for England and
University Privy Council Office
2 Carlton Gardens
London SW1Y 5AA
As for England and


Certain words or expressions are covered by other legislation and their use might constitute a criminal offence. Some of these are listed below, but this list is not exhaustive and if you have any doubts you should seek further advice. If you want to use any of these words or expressions in your business name you may wish to consult a solicitor and write to the appropriate body to seek their advice on whether using a name would constitute a criminal offence.

Word Or Expression Relevant Legislation Relevant Body
Architect Section 20 Architects
Registration Act 1997
Architects Registration
73 Hallam Street
London W1N 6EE
Credit Union Credit Union Act 1979 The Public Records Section
Management Services Authority
25 The North Colonnade
Canary Wharf
London E14 5HS
Veterinary Surgeon,
Veterinary, Vet
Sections 19/20
Veterinary Surgeons
Act 1966
The Registrar
Royal College of
Veterinary Surgeons
62-64 Horseferry Rd
London SW1P 2AF
Solicitor (Scotland) S.31, Solicitors
(Scotland) Act 1980
The Law Society of Scotland
26 Drumsheugh Gardens
Edinburgh EH3 7YR
Dental Surgeon,
Dental Practitioner,
Dental Act 1984 The Registrar
General Dental Council
37 Wimpole Street
London W1M 8DQ
Section 78
Medicines Act 1968
The Director of
Legal Services
The Royal Pharmaceutical
Society of Great Britain
1 Lambeth High Street
London SE1 7JN
(for Scottish
Registered Partnerships)
The Pharmaceutical
36 York Place
Paralympians, translation of these or words so similar to these protected words
Use of such words may infringe the rights of the British Olympic Association/British Paralympic Association.* Also protects the Olympic symbols of five interlocking rings; the Olympic motto “Citius Altius Fortius” (“Faster, Higher, Stronger”); the Paralympic symbol of three “agitos”; the Paralympic motto “Spirit in Motion”; and anything so similar to them. Following London’s successful bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 has been introduced. This provides further rights for the protection of Olympic words, symbols and marks relating to the Games. In addition to the protected words outlined in this information, the registration of a company name which includes specific words implying association with the London 2012 Games may infringe the rights of The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games Limited (LOCOG) under this Act. Games Limited (LOCOG)
23 rd Floor
1 Churchill Place
Canary Wharf
E14 5LN
Ophthalmic Optician,
Dispensing Optician,
Enrolled Optician,
Registered Optician,
Opticians Act 1989 The Registrar
General Optical Council
41 Harley Street
London W1N 2DJ
Red Cross,
Geneva Cross,
Red Crescent,
Red Lion and Sun
Geneva Convention
Act 1957
Seek advice of
Partnerships House
Anzac Section 1 Anzac Act 1916 Seek advice of
Partnerships House
Chiropodist, Dietician,
Medical Laboratory,
Occupational Therapist,
Remedial Gymnast
Supplementary to
Medicine Act 1960
if preceded by
Registered, State or
Mrs Joan Arnott
Department of Health
Rm 2N35A
Quarry House
Quarry Hill
Leeds LS2 7JE
Institute of Laryngology,
Institute of Otology,
Institute of Urology,
Institute of Orthopaedics
University College
London Act 1988
Seek advice of
University College
Gower Street
Patent Office,
Patent Agent
Copyright, Designs
and Patents Act
IPPD (Intellectual Property Policy Directorate)
Room 3B38, Concept House
The Patent Office, Cardiff Road,
Newport, NP10 8QQ
Building Society Building Society
Act 1986
Seek advice of
Building Societies Commission
Victoria House
30-40 Kingsway
London WC2B 6ES
Chamber(s) of Business, Chamber(s) of Commerce,
Chamber(s) of Commerce and Industry,
Chamber(s) of Commerce, Training and Enterprise,
Chamber(s) of Enterprise,
Chamber(s) of Industry
Chamber(s) of Trade,
Chamber(s) of Trade and Industry,
Chamber(s) of Training,
Chamber(s) of Training and Enterprise
  or the Welsh translations of these words
Company and Business Names (Chamber of Commerce etc.) Act 1999 Guidance is available from Partnerships House
The Victoria University of Manchester,
University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology,
Manchester University,
Prohibited to anyone but the University of Manchester by “University of Manchester Act 2004″.  
University of Wales College of Medicine,
Welsh National School of Medicine.
Prohibited to anyone but the University of Wales by “University of Wales, Cardiff Act 2004″  


Although there are no rules about how you should show the necessary information on your business stationery, here are a few examples to help you:

1. A business owned by an individual person:

W.JONES BAKERY (prop: W. Jones)
12 High Street

2. A business owned by a partnership:

(partners: P. Jones and A. Brown)
34 Lower Street

3. A business owned by a company:

Unit 2
New Trading Estate


At the bottom of the letterhead (these details are required under both the Business Names Act 1985 and the Partnerships Acts) :

ABC FOODS (GREAT BRITAIN) LTD registered in England and Wales
Registration number: 1234567
Registered Office: 5 Middle Street, Barchester, Barset BA4 5Q

RREMEMBER: this notice must be displayed in a prominent position so that it can be read easily in all the places where you carry on your business and where you deal with customers or suppliers.


Again, there are no rules governing the way you display your business name with the owner’s name and address. However, the following example may help you.

(as required by section 4 of the
Business Names Act 1985)

William Jones
12 High Street