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How to name a company

5 steps to help your business find a distinctive and legal name

11-minute read

The success of a start-up depends in part on its choice of name. Finding a distinctive name is therefore important, but it can be challenging. Choosing a mundane name is like setting a building on shaky ground. But an inspiring name will serve as a strong foundation for your company.

The idea is to choose a name that you believe is going to work well with your customers.

Step 1. Decide on your company structure

Before selecting and registering a name, you’ll need to decide on a business structure for your future company.

If you choose a sole proprietorship, you can operate under your own name and you will not have to register a business name. However, you will need to register if you add any words to your name (for example, Jane Roy Consulting).

Other types of business structures, namely general partnership and corporation, must register a corporate name or a trade name with the government.

In Canada, you can incorporate your business, including registering your name, in 14 different jurisdictions: at the federal level, and in 10 provinces and three territories.

If you decide to incorporate federally, you can do so with Corporations Canada.

Step 2. Determine the type of name you need

The next step is to determine the type of name you’ll need. You may need a legal name, a trade name and a trademark. These terms are often used interchangeably, but each one is distinct.

Remember that the name you choose will also be linked to available domain names, that is, the name of your website.

Legal name

A corporate name is your company’s legal name. It must be used on your bank statements, invoices and contracts.

Corporations Canada offers two options for legal names:

  1. A numbered name
  2. A word name

A numbered name:

  • Consists of numbers followed by the word Canada and a legal element (for example, 15273498 Canada Ltd.)
  • Is assigned by Corporations Canada
  • Cannot be assigned to a cooperative (can only be assigned to business corporations or not-for-profit organizations)
  • Can be obtained more quickly than a word name

A word name:

  • Consists of letters, numbers and symbols followed by a legal element (for example, Company ABC Ltd.)
  • Is selected by you
  • Is approved by Corporations Canada according to certain criteria (requirements are listed on the Government of Canada website)
A numbered name A word name
A set of digits followed by the word “Canada” (e.g.,15273498 Canada Ltd.) Letters, numbers and symbols followed by a legal element
Assigned to you by Corporations Canada Selected by you and approved by Corporations Canada if it complies with the requirements of the Canada Business Corporations Act
Cannot be assigned to a cooperative, only to business corporations or not-for-profit corporations Unlike a numbered name, a well-chosen, distinct word name can more aptly represent your business
Can be obtained more quickly than a word name When you apply online, Corporations Canada’s turnaround time is one business day. The speed of the final decision depends on how well you prepare before applying

Once your name is approved federally, you will have exclusive use of it throughout Canada.

If you incorporate your business in a territory or province, you will only have the right to use your name in the area or areas where you incorporate.


Unlike a numbered name, a well-chosen, distinctive word name can more aptly represent your business.

Trade name

For marketing purposes, you may choose to carry out your business under a different name than your legal one. This will be your trade name, also known as an operating name. Typically, it appears on a website or a storefront.

If you want to carry out your business under a different name than your legal one, you must register a trade name.

For example, if your company’s legal name is 15273498 Canada Ltd., you may want to market it under another, more evocative name.

You must register this name in each province or territory where your business wants to do business. Only the province of Newfoundland and Labrador exempts you from this requirement.


  • Find out what the registration process is for each province or territory where you want to operate.
  • Consult the business register for each province or territory.


A registered trademark is a sign, word, logo, symbol or combination of these elements. It distinguishes your goods or services from those of other businesses. You can register your trademark with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. You’ll receive a certificate that proves your ownership and gives you exclusive rights to use the trademark for 10 years. You can renew your registration every 10 years after that.


  • If customers know your goods or services under your trade name, you can apply to register it as a trademark.
  • If you use a different name to identify and promote your goods or services, you need to register that one as your trademark to maintain exclusive rights to it.

Dot-com domain name

A domain name is your Internet address. You will need to acquire a domain name to ensure that your customers can easily find you online. This name should be associated with your product, brand or company name.

Ideally, you should choose a “dot-com” name. This extension is better known internationally and easier to remember. You should also choose a name that is written without hyphens or special characters.


  • Select a fully available dot-com name that will boost the effectiveness of your marketing communications.
  • Stick with domains that are either available for registration or that you can afford to buy.

Step 3. Meet the necessary requirements

Before approving your legal name, Corporations Canada requires you to meet a number of requirements.

The government office summarizes the process in a short video, How to name your federal business.

If you want to incorporate your business in a province or territory, consult the regulations in force at each location.

The following are key requirements for corporate name approval:

Your name must comply with language rules

In Canada, outside Quebec, you can give your company an English or French name or use both languages. You can also choose two separate and interchangeable names, one in English and one in French. However, they must clearly designate the same company.

For example, a bookstore can be called Goodreads Bookstore Inc., Librairie Bonnelecture Inc. or Librairie Goodreads Inc.

In Quebec, the company name must abide by the Charter of the French Language. The descriptor, which is the word that designates the company, must be in French. The words that accompany it can be in English or French. For example, a bookstore can be called Librairie Goodreads Inc. or Librairie Bonnelecture Inc.

If you want to add a word to your company name that has a different origin, you will need to use it in combination with English or French. For example, Ioannidis Greek Resto Inc.

You will also have to explain where the name comes from and why you want to use it, for example, in honour of your Greek grandfather.

Your corporate name should be distinctive

Your name should distinguish you from other businesses. If you choose a name that only describes your company’s activities, quality, goods or services, it may not be approved.

For example, Cars Inc. would not be distinctive, while Fantastic Cars Inc. would be.

There should be no confusion with existing names or trademarks

Your name should also not look or sound like an existing corporate or trade name or trademark. To avoid any confusion, do some research prior to proposing a name. Initially, you can use an Internet search engine. There are also some commercial services, including free ones, that let you search for a name and get a report.

Corporations Canada will also conduct a name search using Nuans, a search tool for business names and trademarks.

If your report lists similar names, you will need to explain why your proposed name would not cause confusion.


Be prepared to describe the nature of your business, your clients and the area where your corporate name will be used. The more information you provide, the better your chances of being approved.

As far as your corporate name is concerned, make sure it is distinctive.

You can use your name or combine it with a descriptor

You are allowed to use your first or last name (or both) as your corporate name. However, a name consisting solely of an individual’s name is not distinctive. You will need to expand on the name to convey more information about the business: Belanger Law Services Ltd., for example.

A company cannot be named after a specific place

Geographic names cannot be used as stand-alone legal names. For example, Mont-Tremblant Corp. would not get approved. But Mont-Tremblant Ski Rental Corp. would be an acceptable option.

Certain names are prohibited

There are several examples of names that cannot be used for your business, in English or French:

  • Parliament Hill
  • Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • United Nations, UN
  • Cooperative, co-op or pool (unless you have incorporated a cooperative)
  • Obscene or sexually suggestive words

You are also prohibited from including certain Canadian provincial names and abbreviations in federal corporate names.

Your name cannot be associated with a government body or financial institution regulated by the laws of Canada

Your corporate name cannot say that your business:

  • Operates under royal or governmental patronage
  • Is backed by the Government of Canada, or a provincial, territorial or foreign government
  • Is connected with a university or a professional association
  • Conducts the business of a stock exchange, financial institution or intermediary

Exceptions can be made if you obtain written consent from the party in question.

Your name cannot misrepresent what your company does

Avoid misleading names. Your proposed corporate name cannot misrepresent:

  • The nature of your business and what it does
  • The products your company makes or the services it delivers
  • What your employees do
  • Where your products or services originate

For example, you should not call your corporation “Sam’s Fresh Vegetables Inc.” if you are going to sell canned veggies. You cannot use the word “organic” if your products are not certified.

Your corporate name must end with one of seven mandatory legal terms

The name of your business corporation must include one of the following legal terms, either in French or English:

  • Incorporated
  • Limited
  • Corporation
  • Corp.
  • Inc.
  • Ltd.
  • S.A.R.F. (there is no equivalent in English)
  • Corp.

Take the time to familiarize yourself with all the requirements, whether with Corporations Canada or in the provinces and territories where you want to do business.

“If you have decided to incorporate federally, go to our website and make sure you understand all the criteria,” says Martin Lacelle. “Do your due diligence and take the extra hour to read and research.”

Step 4. Create a great name

Karl T. Ulrich, CIBC Professor of Entrepreneurship and e-Commerce at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, suggests criteria and a process for finding a strong, distinctive name.

Naming criteria

You should consider a number of criteria when choosing a name. The ideal name should:

  • Bring out the attributes of your products or services
  • Offer up positive associations with your business
  • Be easy to spell and not lead clients to other websites
  • Be easy to pronounce for your target market
  • Be relatively short, making it easy for your customers to remember and type (a long name can also work if it’s easy to remember)
  • Be catchy, easy to remember and resonate with your target audience

“In addition to full dot-com availability, pick a name that works hard for you,” says Ulrich. “So that once your consumers see it, they will immediately know what your product does and what its benefit proposition is.”

The naming process

Ulrich suggests a series of steps for finding a strong, distinctive name.

1. Think about your company’s mission

The name of a company or product is closely linked to its mission, its purpose. “To create a set of candidate names, you should first articulate the mission of the name,” says Ulrich. “What is the product, service or company about? What attributes do you want it to have?”

2. Create a list of potential names

With your mission in mind, find relevant and meaningful words or parts of words. You will use them to create the building blocks for your future name. You can use:

  • Common names
  • Proper names
  • Keywords
  • Greek or Latin roots
  • Syllables that change the meaning of a word, such as a prefix or suffix

Once you’ve generated several blocks, start playing around with them. You can:

  • Use some words directly
  • Combine words to create new ones
  • Alter words by adding a character or numeral
  • Add a syllable like a prefix or suffix to change the meaning
  • Add a spelling modification

This will give you a set of complete words, some that actually mean something and others that are purely made up.

You are unlikely to find a dictionary word with dot-com availability. The solution, then, is to create a compound name from several blocks, using both real and made-up words.

The graphic below shows an example of this exercise for the naming of a new bike seat. It also shows some examples of well-known company names to illustrate the possibilities.

3. Select the best names  

Ulrich recommends a three-step process for conducting your name analysis: 

Identify favourite names 

Ask your internal team or other stakeholders to submit their 20 favourite names to those you have created. 

Evaluate potential names  

Put all the selected names into a spreadsheet.  

Put a set of criteria that you will evaluate on a scale of 1 to 5. Here are some examples: 

  • Word length 
  • Domain availability 
  • Quality of brand associations 
  • Unambiguous spelling  
  • Ease of pronunciation  
  • Popularity with the team

This evaluation should give you a list of six to 10 fully available dot-com domain names. 

Test out the names with your audience 

Use a simple online survey tool involving some 50 respondents. List the selected names in random order. Introduce the product or company. Ask target users to rank each selected name on a five-point scale from “I hate it” to “I love it.”  

Ulrich also suggests giving the respondents an opportunity to free-associate with the names, as well as offer comments. 


You can also ask respondents to write out the names they remember. “This will give you a good idea of the associations people have with the name, of recall and of whether there are spelling ambiguities,” explains Ulrich. 

Pick the best name 

Based on the survey, you will be able to identify one or two winners. Once you’re done, do not wait too long to make the final decision. Think about the best names, talk it over and then just choose one.  

 Make sure that the name you choose meets the requirements of Corporations Canada or of each province or territory where you want to register it. 

Once you’ve gone through the process of naming, you say ‘Of course, that’s the name of our company, it could not be anything else.’

Step 5. Register your company name  

If you choose a sole proprietorship structure, you can operate under your own name. You do not have to register a business name. You will need to register, though, if you add any words to your name (for example, Jane Roy Consulting). 

General partnerships and corporations must register a corporate name or a trade name with a government.  

In Canada, you can incorporate your business, including registering your name, in 14 different jurisdictions: at the federal level, and in 10 provinces and three territories. 

At the federal level 

If you opt for a federal incorporation, you will need to do so with Corporations Canada.  

There are two ways to register:  

  • Have your name preapproved before you go through the process of incorporation  
  • Proceed directly to incorporating with Corporations Canada 

Preapproval is not compulsory, but you may want to consider it before purchasing a domain name or paying the incorporation fee. Corporate name preapproval is free of charge.  


Corporations Canada’s turnaround time for online applications is one business day. The speed of the final decision depends on how well you prepare before applying. 

Once you have completed your application, go to the Online Filing Centre and click on “Incorporate.”  

Your proposed name will become your legal corporate name as soon as you receive the certificate of incorporation issued by Corporations Canada. 

Martin Lacelle recommends entrepreneurs get in touch with experts to ask questions. “Send us an email or give us a call. We may recommend that you seek legal advice, if required. It’s worth investing the time and the money to make sure that you set up your corporation in the best possible way.” 

In the provinces and territories 

If you decide to incorporate provincially or territorially, you must do so with the respective governments. You’ll need to refer to the procedures specific to each province or territory where you want to register your business name. 

Next step 

Access our free and low-cost website creation tools for your business. 

Start to expand your reach, build credibility and increase brand and product awareness. 


What is the difference between a corporate name, trade name, brand name and domain name? 

Martin Lacelle from Corporations Canada and lawyer James Plotkin clarify the differences between and the importance of these terms. 

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