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If you are starting a business, it is likely that one of the first things you will consider is your business name. Your business name connects you to your customers and encompasses your brand, making it an important part of the business formation process. However, it is important to be aware of the differences between your business’ legal name and trading name. In Australia, these are two distinct registrations and serve different purposes. To help you understand the different types of business names and what they mean for your business, this article will take you through four things to know about business names.

1. What is a Business Name?

A business name, commonly referred to as a ‘trading name’, is the business name that you use to conduct all of your business. A business name differs from a legal name, which is the name of the official entity that appears on all official documentation.

Your business name may be distinct from your company’s legal name, although they can also be the same. Some companies may have numerous business names that they use for different elements of their business operations. A business name is ultimately how customers will identify you and connect with your business.

In some countries, such as the United States, business names are referred to as ‘Doing Business As’ or ‘DBA’ names. This is because their business name is the name under which all business is conducted, as opposed to the corporate entity’s name.

2. Registering a Business Name

If you want to trade under a different name to your business’ legal name, you might have to register it. The rules surrounding name registrations depend on the name you are using. 

For example, if you are a sole proprietor using your own name, you will not have to register your name as a separate business name. Further, if your business name is identical to your trading name, you will not need to register it. However, all other variations of your business names will need to be registered. The below table serves as a guide for whether you will need to register your business name:

Legal name

Business name

Is registration required?

Jane Doe

Jane Doe

No

Jane Doe

Jane Doe Pastries

Yes

Jane and John Doe

Jane and John Doe

No

Jane and John Doe

Jane and John Doe Pastries

Yes

Jane Doe Pty Ltd

Jane Doe Pastries

Yes

Jane Doe Pty Ltd

Jane Doe Pty Ltd

No

If you do need to register your business name, you can do so using the Australian government’s Business Registration Service. This website provides a quick and easy tool for business name registration.

3. Choosing a Business Name

Selecting a business name is an important process, as it is how customers will find you, talk about you and identify you. Your business name will profoundly impact the impression you give to potential customers, so you should not choose it lightly. When choosing a business name, you should ensure that it:

  • is not offensive;
  • makes a strong first impression;
  • attracts your target audience; and
  • is easy to remember.

It is also important to consider that you will not be able to register a business name that is already in use by another business. Therefore, if your business name is taken, you will need to try a different variation of the name you have selected, or develop an entirely different name. You can search if your proposed business name is available by using the Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s (ASIC) business name search tool.

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4. Updating a Business Name

If you do choose to use a business name, it is important to consider whether you will be able to change your name at a later date. Unfortunately, you cannot modify your registered business name, even if it is only a slight variation.

If you later decide to trade under a different name, you must register this new name. In that case, you may choose to cancel your existing business name. Alternatively, you might decide to keep it in the instance you want to use it at a later date.

Key Takeaways

Choosing a business name is an important part of establishing your business. A business name is distinct from your business’ legal name but is perhaps more important, as it is the name that will be presented to the public as your trading name. Some things to know about business names include:

  • what they are;
  • how to register yours;
  • how to choose one; and 
  • how to update it.

If you need help understanding your business’ registration requirements, our experienced business lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents. Call us today on 1300 544 755 or visit our membership page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a business name?

A business name, often referred to as a ‘trading name’, is the business name that you use to conduct your business. Your business name is what the public will use to find you, talk about you and identify you. If you later decide to trade under a different name to your legal name, you might have to register it.

What is the difference between a business name and a legal name?

A business name differs from a legal name, which is the name of the official entity that appears on all official documentation. On the other hand, a business name, also referred to as a trading name, is the name that you use in the day to day operations of your business.

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