Choosing a business name: all you need to know
- Jeanine Hoekstra
- Step-by-step plan
- 16 Oct 2019
- Edited 7 Mar 2023
- 9 min
A good business name is recognisable, sticks in your mind, and makes clear what you have to offer. A suitable business name is part of your image. The name must meet a couple of requirements. This article will help you find a trade name that ticks all the boxes.
- Check the rules for trade names
- Think of a suitable trade name
- Check whether your business name is already in the Business Register
- Is your trade name unique (enough)?
- Check whether your business name is a brand or domain name
Step 1: Check the rules for trade names
If you select a business name and use this to indicate your business, it is officially referred to as a 'trade name'. There are certain rules you must adhere to. These are laid down in the Trade Name Act ('Handelsnaamwet').
- Do not create a wrong impression
You may not present your business as larger or different than it is. For example, if you are an independent worker without employees, you may not carry the name Jansen & Partners, as this would create the impression that there are multiple owners.
- Symbols and numbers
You may use numbers in your business name. The following symbols are permitted: @, &, +, and -. You may only use other special symbols, such as (), ?, !, *, #, or / as substitutes for a letter, or as a pun.
- Protected professions
Some professions are protected. Think of medical titles, like GP or nurse. You may only use these if you have registered with the BIG register.
You may only use the words for some professions in your business name if you are registered in the official register of that profession.
- Someone else's name
You may not use someone else's given name, not even if they have given permission to do so. You may only use your own name in your business name. The exception this, however, is if your name should happen to be Heineken, for instance.
- Almost the same
You are not allowed to choose a business name that is too similar to that of a competitor's. Your trade name must not confuse customers or suppliers. If your trade name is too similar to that of a competitor, they can sue you. Even if you have attached your place of business to the name (for example: McRonald's Zevenhuizen).
- Existing brand names
Do not select a business name that uses the brand name of another business (nor ones that resemble them), as this could cause confusion for customers or suppliers. They could think that the products with that brand are from the business that uses the brand name in its name. This would allow you to profit from the brand recognition of an existing brand.
- Prevent confusion with existing trade names
You may not use a business name which could confuse others (such as customers or suppliers) because the name resembles an existing trade name. Whether confusion could arise depends on such things as:
- the resemblance in name: the more the names resemble each other, the greater the chances of confusion;
- the degree to which the activities resemble each other;
- any overlap in operational area, i.e. the area in which the business is active.
Step 2: Think of a suitable trade name
Now that you have a clear idea of what is and isn't allowed, it is time to come up with a suitable name for you and your business. Take into account:
The Dutch Business Register is a public resource. Do you use your given name in your trade name? Be aware that the data in the register may lead to you personally. If you want to avoid that, it is better to make up a fictional trade name.
Does your name have a meaning in different languages?
Your trade name has to fit your business. This may mean choosing a name in a different language. Be aware of the possible meaning of your trade name in Dutch. Or in any other languages spoken in countries you want to do business with. Also, check if the name can be pronounced easily in the languages spoken in countries you want to do business with.
Video: Choose your business name like a pro
This is a Dutch video. For English subtitles, click the Settings wheel in the video, select 'Ondertiteling', and choose 'Engels'.
Video: Come up with a unique business name
Step 3: Check whether your business name is already in the Business Register
You can check your business name with the tool on this page. This tool is only available in Dutch. Fill in the search field under the header 'Controleer de door jou gekozen bedrijfsnaam' and press enter.
If there are more than 50 search results, only the first 50 will be shown. Make your search query more specific to bring down the number of results.
- In the results you will see the first company name. Below that are additional company names, if the company has any. All of these names can be similar to your company name.
- Too many results? Make your search more precise.
- Does your name consist of more than one word? Then search for the most distinctive part of the name.
- The tool cannot properly search for names with numbers and punctuation marks. This will give you too many results, no results or just an exact match.
- Test different ways to write the name. Especially if you use numbers or punctuation marks. Examples: for a name with the number 4, also search for company names with for or four, and for a name with a hyphen or space, also search for the name without a dash or space: X-mas, Xmas and X mas.
- The tool cannot search by sound (phonetically). If the sound of another company name sounds similar to yours, it can be confusing.
- The tool sometimes also finds company names that were removed from the Business Register less than a year ago.
Additional ways to check business names:
- Check the website of the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP) to see if the name has been registered as a Benelux trademark.
- Check the website of the European Trademarks Office to see if the name has been registered as a European trademark.
- Check the website of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to see if the name has been registered as an international trademark.
- Use an internet search engine to check whether the name is used by any other enterprise;
- Ask a hosting provider whether the name is being used as a website name or check the name on SIDN (in Dutch).
The tool is a resource and should not be considered research or advice. You can only use the tool to search for correctly spelled trade names.
No rights can be derived from this overview. It is a temporary snapshot and the Business Register changes every day. The right to a trade name arises by actually using the name to refer to your company. Registration in the Business Register is not required, nor sufficient to get the right to a trade name.
Step 4: Is your trade name unique (enough)?
How can you judge whether the trade names you have found could cause confusion with the name that you wish to use?
There are no hard and fast rules for this. The most important aspect is the resemblance in name. However, the business's activities and the operational area also play a role in the assessment. Answer the following questions for yourself:
- How strongly do the names resemble each other?
All of the names you find resemble your business name to some degree. This is mainly due to the focus on the ‘main elements’ (the ‘distinctive’ elements) of the trade name and not the generally descriptive parts. For example, in the name ‘Heineken Brandblussers’, ‘Heineken’ is the main element, while ‘Brandblussers’ is generally descriptive. Using ‘brandblussers’ will raise fewer objections than using ‘Heineken’ will. Trade names that have lapsed under a year ago may also turn up in the search results. These could cause confusion if the public is still acquainted with the old name.
- Are the activities the same?
Every name you find is accompanied by information on the sector that the business is active in. Further investigation is advisable, since this sector description is only indicative. It is a good idea to check the website of the business to see exactly what it does, or to consult the Business Register extract. Note that even if the activities are not necessarily directly competitive, a certain degree of confusion could still ensue. For example, if a trade name which is generally known (e.g. Heineken) is included, the activities and the operational area will not really matter. In such cases, cause for confusion is readily assumed to exist.
- Do you operate in the same region?
For all names turning up in search results, their place of establishment is also given. Not only the place of business is important, but also the ‘scope of the business’. In other words: Where can you find customers? The increasing use of internet is making the Netherlands increasingly 'smaller'. A butcher on Texel who offers and delivers mutton across the entire country via his internet shop, could therefore cause confusion with one in Eindhoven who only operates regionally.
Tip: Does the name you are using yield too many search results? Try to add a distinctive element to your name or to adapt it. Then see what this has for consequences for the list of search results.
Step 5: Check whether your business name is a brand or domain name
Before you make a definite choice regarding your business name, it is advisable to check whether it is available as a brand name and domain name. Also research whether the name is used abroad. Note that such information cannot be found in the Business Register. If you have any doubts, it is advisable to have a trade name study conducted by a market party such as a commercial trademark agency.
- Does your business name come from a foreign business?
If a foreign name still has brand recognition in the Netherlands, you will have to check if using this foreign name might cause confusion. Be careful not to use a trade name of a foreign company. There is an exception. If a business uses the same trade name abroad and this is only known locally, it may not be a problem.
If the foreign company is widely known in the Netherlands, this can certainly lead to problems. You can use Google and other search engines to quickly establish whether a trade name is already in use. The trade name will often be registered with a trademark agency. Via organisations such as the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP), you can check whether a business has registered a name as a brand or trade name.
- Is your business name possibly a brand name?
Your business name may not cause any confusion with identical or similar brand names in the register of the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP). If you were to call your snack bar McRonald’s, for instance, you could expect to have problems with the owner of the brand name McDonald’s. Therefore check whether your business name occurs as brand name at the BOIP.
Tip: Do you want to also use your business name as brand name for your products and services? In that case, ensure that you have a distinctive name that can also be registered as brand.
- Do you want to use your business name as domain name?
If you want to use your business name as domain name, check whether it is still available with the Foundation for Internet Domain Registration in the Netherlands (SIDN: Stichting Internet Domeinnaamregistratie Nederland).
Tip: Always first register your domain name with SIDN and only then with the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce KVK. When you register with KVK, your name is made public. This could lead to some party quickly registering the domain name. Unfortunately this occurs quite often.
The Trade Name Act protects your trade name
The Trade Name Act does not only contain rules for choosing a trade name. It also protects you. If you are the first one to use a business name, others cannot simply use it too. This protection also applies if your trade name is not (yet) registered in the Business Register.
Does another business use the same company name? You can try to come to an agreement, or send a summons (a warning) telling your competitior to change the business name before a certain date. You send a summons by regular mail and by registered mail. If the other business does not respond to the summons, the next step is a subdistrict court procedure. The judge will decide if your business is damaged, and if the other party has to change its name.
Registering, changing or adding a business name
When you register your new business with KVK, you register all the relevant details: its name, but also the legal structure, the address, the business activities, etc. Would you like to change your business name? Or would you like to add an extra business name? You can do so by submitting a change form to KVK.