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Business Names

What is a business name?

A business name is simply a name or title under which a person or entity conducts a business. In Australia, unless you fall within an exemption, you must register your business name. 

On 28 May 2012, this register became a national register of business names. The purpose of the register is to provide a way to identify the entity that is carrying on business under a business name.

Let the AHBC help you register a business name and secure your ABN.

Multiple business names

You can have multiple business names held by the same entity with the one Australian Business Nunber (ABN).  For further details, see the section "Australian Business Number" below.

Sates & Territories 

Until recently, you had to have a registered business name for each state/territory that your business held a registered address within. Now under the national business names register with ASIC, one registered business name covers all states and territories.

Display of business name certificate

There is no longer a legal requirement for to display, certificates of registration however, the business name needs to be known.

When should I register a business name? 

Generally, you will need to register a business name with us if you carry on a business or trade within Australia and you are not trading under your own name.

Exceptions to this include:
  • if you are operating as an individual and your operating name is the same as your first name and surname 
  • if you are in a partnership and your operating name is the same as all of the partners' names, or 
  • if you are an already registered Australian company and your operating name is the same as your company's name. 
The law does not allow any changes from the business holder’s name if you wish to rely on the above exemptions. For example, if your name is John Smith, and the name of your business is ‘John Smith & Co’, you will need to register the business name ‘John Smith & Co’. 

What a business name registration does not provide

While registering a business name with ASIC is an important part of setting up and running your business, it does not provide exclusive ownership of your business name.

Instead, registering a business name is a legal obligation if you plan to carry on business or trade in Australia using a name other than your own. Through business name registration – and the Business Names Register – consumers are provided with a greater degree of transparency, and the ability to easily see who owns a business name.

It's important to remember that registering a business name doesn't mean you own it, or that you are preventing other people from being able to register and use similar names. Generally, the only way to gain exclusivity over a particular business name is to register it as a trade mark with IP Australia.

Australian Business Number

To register a business name, you will need to have an Australian Business Number (ABN) or be in the process of applying for one with the Australian Business Register (ABR).

Using the ABN ensures greater consistency between the ABR and ASIC’s business names register and avoids an additional identification number for your business name.

When you apply for an ABN online through the ABR, you can link straight to ASIC Connect to register your business name online. This new ABR service allows business owners to apply for an ABN and register a business name in a single transaction.

Exemption

You do not need an ABN to register a business name if you:
  • operate solely in the Christmas Islands or Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and
  • you are not entitled to an ABN under the A New Tax System (Australian Business Number) Act 1999.
However, you must provide ASIC with information about the type of entity that will hold the business name (i.e. individual, company, partnership, joint venture or other organisation).

Laws that impact on business names
The use of industry and professional terms in general (not just within a business name) is also often limited by other laws. These laws may be specific to the state or territory in which you intend to operate your business.

For example, if your proposed business name includes words which indicate you are licensed in a certain trade or profession when you do not hold such a licence, you may breach the law.

Penalties can include fines and in some instances, imprisonment. You should consider the laws applicable to your industry or profession before you register a business name.

The table below sets out examples where this may be the case:
Word or Term Limited by State or Territory Law Description
Architect In each state and territory of Australia it is a legal requirement that any person using the title ‘architect’ must be registered with the Architects’ Board in that jurisdiction.
Builder In each state and territory there are restrictions around using the title of 'builder' and/or holding yourself out to be a licensed builder. There are penalties associated with falsely claiming to be a builder when you are not licensed or registered. Each state or territory has an individual licensing authority that regulates the building profession.
Registered Professional Engineer In Queensland, a person who is not a registered professional engineer must not use the title ‘registered professional engineer'.
Surveyor In some states, you must not use the title 'licensed surveyor' without being registered under the relevant Act. 
Veterinarian Every state and territory in Australia has a Veterinary Practice Act, and each has a Veterinary Registration Board. The terms veterinary surgeon, veterinary practitioner, veterinarian, vet, animal doctor or any derivative of these terms should not be used by anyone other than a registered veterinarian. All states have penalties for persons who falsely represent themselves as veterinarians.


When starting and running a business you are responsible to ensure you have the correct licences and registrations.

If you register a business name that could breach another law, the responsible body may advise you that you cannot use your registered business name and/or take action against you.

ASIC will not refund the cost of registering the business name in these circumstances.

Business name availability tests

The Business Names Registration Act 2011 (the Act) outlines the circumstances under which a business name is available to an entity.
The Business Names Registration (Availability of Names) Determination 2015 specifies the rules for determining whether a business name is available for registration.

When testing business name availability, we apply a series of automated tests to assist us in assessing that it:
  • is not already registered,
  • is not identical or nearly identical to a name already registered to another entity, and
  • does not include words or phrases that are restricted, offensive or could imply a connection to a government or similar organisation.
A breakdown of these tests is provided below.

Invalid characters

Acceptable characters include all numbers 0 to 9, spaces, UPPER and lower-case letters as well as the prescribed special characters including ! " # $ ? % & ' ( ) { } | \ - * , : ; = - . / 

Undesirable words or expressions

Your proposed business name will be checked for any words or expressions which:
  • are likely to be offensive to members of the public or any section of the public, or
  • are misleading in that they suggest a connection with a prescribed entity that does not exist.
For example, the name 'Department of Finance Money Exchange' would be refused as this suggests a connection to the Commonwealth Department of Finance.

Restricted words or expressions

Your proposed business name will be checked for any restricted words or expressions. If one has been identified, you will require Ministerial consent to register the name.

In addition to this, if a word or expression has been found to have the same or a similar meaning to a restricted word or expression — it may 

also require Ministerial consent to register the name.

For example, the name 'Online charity auctions' would require Ministerial consent because it contains the restricted word 'Charity'.

On 20 July 2015 the Treasury approved an update to the Guidelines for Ministerial consent for business names under the Act.

Name already used by another entity

Your proposed business name will be checked to ensure that it (or a similar name) is not already registered to another entity.


Name held for transferYour proposed business name will be checked against our list of business names that are held and in the process of being transferred from an existing business name holder to a new business name holder.


If you are to be the new business name holder, you can apply to register the business name by using the consent to transfer number the current holder has provided you.

Identical names

Your proposed business name will be checked to ensure it is not already registered or reserved to another body under the Corporations Act 2001for another body.

The identical match is assessed after the following matters are disregarded.

See Part 1 of the Schedule 6 of the Corporations Regulations 2001.
If the company or business name contains... then...
A AN or THE disregard these words (only if the first word)
PROPRIETARY, PTY, LIMITED, LTD, NO LIABILITY, NL disregard these words (in final position only)
a word in plural form convert plural to singular form (so they are equivalent to singular form)
Examples:
  • CHILDREN to CHILD.
  • BATTERIES to BATTERY.
  • CARS to CAR.
If the company or business name contains... then...
COMPANY, COY, CO treat these words as equivalent to each other.
NUMBER, NO treat these words as equivalent to each other.
AND, & treat these words as equivalent to each other.
INCORPORATED, INC treat these words as equivalent to each other.
CORPORATION, CORP treat these words as equivalent to each other.
AUSTRALIAN COMPANY NUMBER, ACN treat these words as equivalent to each other.
AUST, AUSTRALIAN treat these words as equivalent to each other.

Differences relating to the size of characters, the type and case of letters, any accents, spacing between characters and punctuation marks disregard.

Punctuation marks include ! ( ) _ - { } : ; " ' ? , . / \ |

Identical business names and other lists

Your proposed business name will be checked to ensure it is not already registered or reserved on other notified lists, such as a list of Government body names.
An identical match is assessed after the following matters are disregarded.
See section 5 of the Business Names Registration (Availability of Names) Determination 2015.

If the proposed business name OR the name against which it is being checked contains... then...
domain extension and host name elements the domain extension and host name elements are disregarded (including where additional spacing is used). Examples include - WWW, BIZ, COM, NET, ORG, CO, AU, NZ, UK
Examples of names considered to contain domain name elements:
  • FROSTYICECREAM COM AU becomes frostyicecream
  • WWW.WRITEYOURWILL.COM becomes writeyourwill
  • FREZNO.COM becomes frezno
  • E-BUY.CO.UK becomes e-buy
If the company or business name contains... then...
A AN or THE disregard these words (unless it is the whole name)
ASSOCIATION, CO-OPERATIVE, INCORPORATED, LIMITED, LTD, NO LIABILITY, NL , PROPRIETARY, PTY disregard these words/legal elements (in one or both names)word in plural formconvert plural to singular form (so they are equivalent to singular form).
Examples:
  • CHILDREN to CHILD,
  • BATTERIES to BATTERY
  • CARS to CAR

differences relating to the size of characters, the type and case of letters, any accents, spacing between characters and punctuation marksdisregard. Punctuation marks include ! ( ) _ - { } : ; " ' ? , . / \ |

words in a different order disregard.

For disregarding the order of words, each of the following is to be treated as a word:
  • a character separated by spaces
  • a group of characters separated by spaces
  • an abbreviation, or
  • an acronym.

Business names registered to another body

Your proposed business name will be checked to ensure that it (or a similar name) is not already being used by another entity.

This includes all registered or held business names passed to us from a State or Territory register on commencement of the national business name service.

Names registered to another body on a state or territory register

This test is for an identical match against names registered to another body on a notified State or Territory register.

Depending on the State or Territory, notified registers generally include - Cooperatives, Incorporated Associations, Limited and/or Incorporated Limited Partnerships.

Business names held subject to finalisation of an activity

Your proposed business name will be checked against our list of held business name for which registration applications have been submitted to ASIC, but are waiting on confirmation of the registration of an Australian Business Number, or payment of the business name registration fee within the prescribed period.

For example, an application to register the business name 'Barry’s Buses' was received and processed by ASIC on 26 November 2013. The applicant selected to pay the registration fee by invoice and has not yet paid.

The business name is not registered but will be held until the fee has been paid.

We are also required to hold cancelled business names for a period of four months after cancellation is complete.

For example, the business name 'Bank Street Cafeteria' was cancelled on 4 January 2014. It will not be available for registration until 4 May 2014.

Words and expressions taken to have the same meaning

Your proposed business name will be checked in consideration of words and expressions that are taken to mean the same.

When comparing a business name with another name to check if they are identical or 'nearly identical', certain words and expressions are taken to have the same meaning as other words or expressions.

On 20 July 2015 the Business Name Registration (Availability of Names) Determination 2015 came into effect. Words and expressions taken to be the same are specified in Schedule 1 of the Determination.

For example, the business name 'Premium Pest Control' will be considered nearly identical to 'Premium Pest Management' and will not be available for registration. The terms ‘Pest Control’ and ‘Pest Management’ are listed in the same item in Schedule 1 and are taken to be the same.

Please be aware that the nature of a business is not taken into consideration in determining whether a business name is available for registration.

Words that sound the same

Your proposed business name will be checked to see if it can be pronounced the same as another name on the register.

This test will be undertaken using the literal transcription of the proposed business name and the names against which it is being compared.

We will check your name for a pronunciation match against:
  • business names registered to another body, including names passed to us from a State or Territory register as a registered business name at commencement of the National Business Names service 
  • names registered to another body on a notified State or Territory register
  • names advised to us as being a Government body or a name specified under a Commonwealth, or State or Territory Act, and
  • business names we hold subject to finalisation of an activity, such as registration of an Australian Business Number, payment of the registration fee or cancellation of the registration.
For example, the following may be considered identical using the pronunciation test:
  • 'HARE OF THE DOG' and 'HAIR OF THE DOG'
  • 'COLOUR ME IN' and 'COLOUR ME INN'