Choosing a Business Name

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.

In 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.

You can have multiple business names held by the same entity with the one Australian Business Number (ABN).

When do I register a business name?

Generally, you need to register a business name when you carry on a business or trade within Australia and you are not trading under your own name (Sole trader).

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 the partners' names, or
    • if you are an already registered Australian company and your operating name is the same as your company's name.

Registration Excludes

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
    • 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:

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.

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, a series of automated tests are used including:

    • 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'.

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 transfer

Your 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 2001 for another body.

Examples:

      • CHILDREN to CHILD.
      • BATTERIES to BATTERY.
      • CARS to CAR.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

Check 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 are 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'