What’s in a name? Well, consider Marion Robert Morrison or Norma Jeane Mortenson. Neither has quite the same ring to it as John Wayne or Marilyn Monroe, right?

And while you’re not trying to make it in Hollywood, your choice of business name matters too. That’s because a business name is how customers recognise your business. Get it right, and you can create a great first impression that goes some way to building a strong, trusted reputation.

So what do you need to know before picking the perfect business name?

  1. The rules depend on the structure of your business

In Australia, business names are governed under the Business Names Registration Act 2011 and the Business Names Registration (Availability of Names) Determination 2015.

As such, there are several rules you need to follow when registering a business name – which can depend on how you structure your business:

  • Sole traders have to register their business name with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), unless the operating name is the same as your first name and surname
  • Partnerships have to register their business name with ASIC, unless the operating name is the same as all the partners’ names
  • Companies need to register a business name if they want to trade under a different name to the company name

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

  1. There are words you can’t use

Before you register a business name, you first need to find out if the name is available. To do that, run a search on ASIC’s business name register. ASIC will assess the name to check for three things:

  • Firstly, it can’t be identical or nearly identical to a business name that’s already been registered
  • Secondly, it can’t contain invalid characters such as umlauts (ä) or the ‘greater than’ symbol (>)
  • Finally, the name can’t contain ‘undesirable’ or restricted words

Undesirable words aren’t just those that some people may consider offensive. Certain words and expressions are also restricted as they may mislead the public. For example, using ‘the Commonwealth Government’ in your business name suggests a connection that may not exist. The same goes for protected words such as ‘charity’, ‘incorporated’, ‘bank’ or ‘university’ if your business isn’t one.

  1. Registering a business name doesn’t give you full rights to the name

Registering a business name only satisfies your legal obligations. So, importantly, it doesn’t give you exclusive trading, branding or ownership rights over the name. For that, you need a trademark.

Trademarks prevent other businesses from using your registered mark, which could be anything from a phrase or word to a sound, logo or even scent.

You should always conduct a trademark search before registering your business name. That’s because you might find yourself in legal hot water if you infringe on a prior registered trademark.

Blaine Hattie is a commercial lawyer at Sutton Laurence King Lawyers.

Launching a new business? Get the right advice by speaking with Sutton Laurence King Lawyers. Call us on 03 9070 9810 or email us on