How to choose and register a name for your business

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Photo: Getty

The right name should be memorable and differentiate your business - and it shouldn't make you cringe, says Chana Boucher.

In 1996, two university friends started BackRub, a search engine that would go on to become one the world’s most powerful tech giants. Never heard of it? That’s because a year later they changed the name to Google. (And aren’t you glad they did? "Just BackRub it" doesn’t quite have the same ring to it…)

Choosing the right name for your new business can be overwhelming. It should be something memorable that differentiates your company from others, something that won’t make you cringe when you hear it said out loud, something that is easy to find online.

If you’re really struggling to come up with something, type "business name generator" into Google and you’ll find a number of websites that will come up with suggestions that can be totally random or related to what your business offers.

Your company name should not:

  • Imply that you are a bank, attorney, notary or conveyancer (unless you are one);
  • Include words such as ‘government’, ‘state’ or ‘United Nations’;
  • Use a name that’s the same or very similar to a business name that’s already registered;
  • Consist of fewer than three letters.

 Here’s what to do once you’ve decided on a name:

Check that it’s available

If you intend to register your business, you will need to make sure that there isn’t an existing enterprise with that name. You can do this via the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission’s (CIPC) search tool called BizProfile.

Start by registering as a CIPC customer on the e-Services section on the CIPC’s website. (Look for ‘Online Transacting’ at the top of the webpage.) Once you are registered and you are logged in you can look up existing business entities by name to see if the name you have in mind is already in use.

If you are planning to set up a website for your business, it’s also a good idea to check if the domain name – that will be the URL you use for your business, e.g. www.YOUR – is available, before you reserve your name.

Visit the ZA Central Registry (ZACR) whois portal and type in your business name. If the domain name is already taken, you may want to reconsider your name and opt for something that is available to avoid any confusion for customers trying to find you online. (Note: If the domain name is not taken, it doesn’t mean the name has not been registered with the CIPC.)

Claim your name

You’ve searched your business name on the BizPortal and Whois, and it looks like you’re in the clear… now it’s time to make it official. 

While logged into e-Services on the CIPC website, click on "Transact" and look for the link to "Name Reservations". You will land on a page where you can type in up to four different name options, in order of preference. (The CIPC will work from the top down, approving/rejecting the options you’ve submitted.)

An initial check will tell you whether the name is acceptable or not, but this does not guarantee that the name will be approved at the next stage. If your names are acceptable, you can submit them for registration, and if successful you will be notified by SMS and email. This name reservation process will cost you R50.

Two birds, one stone

Most of South Africa’s big banks such as Nedbank, FNB and Standard Bank offer a service to assist with name reservation and business registration if you open up a business account with them for your start-up. The fees are slightly higher than going directly to the CIPC, but if admin isn’t really your thing, and you could use the help, you might want to look into this option (especially if you’re opening a bank account anyway).

Take note: 

  • You can register your business without a name if you’re not ready to make the commitment. You will then use your registration number, which you can change to your chosen business name at a later stage.
  • You can change the name of your business (for a fee of R250, which is waived if you’re changing from your registration number to your name), if you change your mind or the structure, location or service your business offers evolves.
  • There are helpful step-by-step guides provided on the CIPC website to walk you through the process of reserving or changing your name. 
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