Choosing a Name for Your Business

Best Practices for Sole Proprietors to Corporations

11 mins read

This article discusses the different naming options available for businesses and the legal reasoning behind each naming convention.

The government requires that most businesses need a name to register their business. There are several different types of names your business could have and how to register them. This is why it is important to decide what structure you will use for your business before registering your business name. This is where you seriously need to understand the basic structures of a sole proprietorship, partnership and corporation, along with what each entails. For more information, read our article The 3 Structures of Business.

Sole Proprietorship

A business operating under your legal name as a sole proprietor generally does not need you to register your business name. This means you may run a business under your first and last name (John Cook), and it would not require a registration if you were working alone. Any other scenario will require you to register your name either as your legal corporate name or a trade name.

Corporate names

Every business corporation, not-for-profit corporation and cooperative must have a distinct name that legally identifies the corporation. This name is set out in your articles of incorporation. The process of incorporating includes the name registration within the jurisdiction where you are incorporating.

The following information was adapted from The Government of Canada Website Rules of Incorporation.

Types of Corporate Names

A corporate name is the legal name of your corporation. This name identifies your corporation, and you must use it in all contracts and invoices. It can be a word name or a numbered name (for example, 12345678 Canada Inc.).

Mandatory Terms By Business Type

Business Corporations – Legal elements
When you are naming your business corporation, you must include one of the following legal elements:

Limitée, Limited, Incorporée, Incorporated, Société par actions de régime fédéral, Corporation, Ltée, Ltd., Inc., S.A.R.F., or Corp.

Not-For-Profit Corporations – Prescribed terms
If you want a numbered name for your not-for-profit corporation, you must include one of the following prescribed terms:

Association, Center, Centre, Fondation, Foundation, Institut, Institute or Society.

A prescribed term is not mandatory for a word name.

Cooperative – Mandatory words
When you are naming your cooperative, you must include one of the following words or a word of the same family:

Cooperative, Co-operative, United, Pool, Coop, Co-op, or Coopérative.

A word name can include letters, symbols and numbers.

Originality

The key to naming your corporation is that the name must be original and distinct. This means that the corporation name should stand out from any other business. 

Your name will not be original if it only describes the activities, the goods and services or the characteristics of the goods and services of your corporation. The name “Bicycle Producers Inc.” lacks distinctiveness since it describes the activities of all bicycle producers.

Made-up words can make a name distinctive. They can be a combination of two dictionary words such as “Mindtech” or something completely new such as “Floobog”.

Unusual names tend to be very distinctive because they are unique.

Examples of Distinctive and Not Distinctive Names

Business Corporations

Distinctive

Floobog Technology Incorporated
Applehead Shipping Corp.

Not distinctive

Technology Incorporated
Shipping Corp.

Not-For-Profit Corporations

Distinctive

Floobog Clothing Foundation
Applehead Food Centre

Not distinctive

Clothing Foundation
Food Centre

Cooperatives

Distinctive

Floobog Market Coop
Applehead Film Cooperative

Not distinctive

Market Coop
Film Cooperative

First Name and Family Names

Your corporate name can include a first name or a family name, or both.

Generally, a corporate name that consists only of an individual’s name is not considered distinctive.

If your proposed corporate name contains an individual’s family name:

    • the individual, heir or representatives must give written consent to the use of the name; and
    • the individual has or had a material interest in the corporation, or, in the case of a not-for-profit corporation, a personal interest in the corporation.

Examples of Acceptable and Unacceptable Corporate Names That Include a Name or a Family Name

Business Corporations

Acceptable

P. Grandy Imports Ltd
Shirley Conway Art Inc.
Carson Consulting Corp.

Unacceptable

P. Grandy Ltd
Shirley Conway Inc.
Carson Corp.

Not-For-Profit Corporations

Acceptable

P. Grandy Soccer Foundation
Shirley Conway Reading School
Carson History Centre

Unacceptable

P. Grandy
Shirley Conway
Carson

Cooperatives

Acceptable

P. Grandy Farmers Coop
Shirley Conway Market Cooperative
Carson Film Co-op

Unacceptable

P. Grandy Coop
Shirley Conway Cooperative
Carson Co-op

Geographic Names

Your corporate name can include a geographic name.

Geographic names cannot be used alone as a corporate name.

Examples of Acceptable and Unacceptable Corporate Names That Include a Geographic Name

Business Corporations

Acceptable

Radisson Accounting Inc.
Estevan Brewing Corporation

Unacceptable

Radisson Inc.
Estevan Corporation

Not-For-Profit Corporations

Acceptable

Radisson Law Students Society
Estevan Events Association

Unacceptable

Radisson
Estevan

Cooperatives

Acceptable

Radisson Hockey Cooperative
Estevan Comic Cooperative

Unacceptable

Radisson Cooperative
Estevan Cooperative

Confusion with other names or trademarks

As a general rule, you cannot choose a name that causes confusion with an existing corporate name, business name or trademark. When the names of two distinct businesses are so similar that someone could think that they are the same business, those names are considered to be confusing.

When you are choosing your name, consider doing some research to find out if your proposed name could be confused with an existing corporate name, business name or trademark in Canada.

For more information on a name search see our article on Registering Your Business Name.

Prohibited terms

A proposed corporate name cannot include any of the following words:

    • “Parliament Hill” or “Colline du Parlement”
    • “Royal Canadian Mounted Police”, “RCMP”, “Gendarmerie royale du Canada” or “GRC”
    • “United Nations”, “UN”, “Nations Unies” or “ONU” (if it connotes a relationship with the United Nations)
    • “Cooperative”, “Co-op”, “Pool” or “Coopérative” if it connotes a cooperative venture (unless you are incorporating a cooperative).

Your corporate name cannot contain an obscene word or phrase or that suggests a business that is obscene.

Names that suggest governmental or institutional sponsorship or control

Unless the corporation obtains the written consent of the concerned party, a corporate name should not imply that the corporation:

    • carries on business under royal or governmental patronage
    • is sponsored by the Government of Canada, a provincial or territorial government, or a foreign government
    • is connected with a university or a professional association
    • carries on the business of a financial institution or intermediary, or
    • carries on the business of a stock exchange.

Misleading names

A proposed corporate name cannot mislead the public with respect to:

    • the business, goods or services which with the name is related
    • conditions under which the goods or services will be produced or supplied
    • persons to be employed in the production or supply of the goods or services
    • place of origin of the goods or services.

Corporations Canada reviews all proposed corporate word names to ensure they comply.

Only business and not-for-profit corporations can have numbered names (assigned by Corporations Canada). You can use a different name to operate your business (for example, the name you use on your store front, website or business cards).

Get a numbered name

If you want a numbered name (for example 12345678 Canada Inc.), select this option during your incorporation. Corporations Canada will assign you a number. The rest of the information does not apply to you. You may now incorporate your business.

If you are incorporating a cooperative, you cannot request a numbered name.

Remember: your corporate name is different from a trademark or domain name. Owning a domain name does not protect your corporate name

Even though the federal name granting examination is rigorous, the name approval process does not guarantee protection against other corporate names, business names or trademarks. Once you are incorporated, it is your responsibility to protect your name. Consider the following measures:

    • monitoring what is online
    • obtaining surveillance services for corporate names, other registered business names, trademarks and domain names
    • strengthening your name protection by developing a branding strategy, obtaining a trademark or purchasing domain names.

To ensure that the specific needs of your corporation regarding the protection of your corporate name are met, consider consulting a lawyer or another professional advisor.

If you incorporate federally, you will have exclusive use of your corporate name across the country.

If you are incorporating provincially or territorially, you have exclusive use of your corporate name in the province or territory where you incorporate.

These are your best practices for naming your business. Although most naming can be done creatively without all these steps – there is no one size fits all. Now let’s do a search so we can register your business – Registering Your Business Name.

Download this resource article Choosing a Name for Your Business (pdf).

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Visit our Resource Library for all available downloads.

If you require assistance with any of the guides, forms or templates, please contact a BIG representative.

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