Choosing a business name: all you need to know

The business name, or trade name, is the name of your company. Coming up with a business name is often a creative process. You want a unique name that fits you and your company, but you also have to comply with the rules for business names. This article will help you come up with a business name that meets all the rules.

Step 1: Check the rules for trade names

The rules for company names are in the Trade Name Act. Trade name (handelsnaam) is the official word for company name (bedrijfsnaam).

Protection by Trade Name Act

The Trade Name Act not only contains rules for your company name, the law also protects you. If you are the first to use a company name, someone else is not allowed to use it. It does not matter whether your company name is in the Business Register.

Misleading

Your business name must not make your business appear different or bigger than it is. This is deception. Some examples of deception:

  • Do you want to call your eenmanszaak (sole proprietorship) Jansen & partners? Then it looks like there is more than one owner.
  • You want to use the word 'Royal' in your business name?  This is only allowed if your business officially holds the designation Royal (in Dutch).
  • Want to call your business Home Happiness Home Care? This is not allowed if you only do cleaning work.

Special characters

Most company names consist only of letters, but you can also use numbers or punctuation marks such as . , - + and &. Make sure the name remains legible to others and that you can pronounce it.

Some business owners add a lot of punctuation to their trade name, for example ---- or &&&&. Or special characters, such as ^ * ~ or {}. Often such additions are meant to make a trade name more attractive, but you can't pronounce them properly. Keep in mind that the Trade Name Act does not protect such additions. However, you can try to get protection for these through trademark law.

Legal protection

Some professions are protected by law. This means that you can only use these professions in your company name if you have the appropriate qualifications. Or if you are registered in the legal register of that profession. Think of medical titles such as doctor, pharmacist or nurse. You may only use these if you have a BIG registration (Beroepen in de Individuele Gezondheidszorg). Words such as bank, architect, accountant, lawyer, civil-law notary, bailiff and some veterinary professions are also protected.

Another person's name

It can be misleading to use a first and last name (personal name) in your business name that are not the same as your own. This is not allowed. Not even if the person whose name you use gives permission.

There is one exception. If you take over a business named after someone, you do not have to change the business name. Even if it is someone else's personal name.

Slightly different

You are not allowed to write your company name just slightly differently from that of your competitors. This is because the name must not cause confusion among customers or suppliers. If your name resembles an existing company name, your competitor can sue you. Even if you make the name distinctive by attaching the name of your own location.

Existing brand names

Choose a business name that does not contain another company's brand name. Or a name similar to it. 

Trends

You may follow a trend with your company name. In the beauty sector, for example, many businesses use the words 'beauty by', 'hair by', or 'nails by' in their trade name. This is allowed as long as you combine the name with a (first) name that is not yet in the Business Register.

Step 2: Think of a suitable company name

Now that you have a clear idea of what is and isn't allowed, it is time to come up with a trade name. One that suits you and your business. Take into account:

Your privacy

KVK registers your company name in the Business Register. The Dutch Business Register is a public resource. Do you use your own 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?

Maybe you do not have any immediate plans to do business abroad. But you may want to in the future. So, find out what your company name sounds like in other languages. And check if the word or sound means something strange or rude in another language.

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: Use the KVK Naamchecker tool to check your business name

You can check your trade name with the KVK name checker tool. With this, you can quickly see if there are businesses or trademarks with a similar name. The tool is only available in Dutch but it is easy to use.

Fill in your idea for a name in the search field and click Zoeken ('Search'). The results will show if there are similar names in KVK's Business Register or BOIP's trade mark register.

Search in the tool (in Dutch)

Step 4: Is your trade name unique (enough)?

So, a business name should not be too similar to that of other companies. Check the tool and 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.

Example: in the name ‘Heineken Brandblussers’, ‘Heineken’ is the main element, while ‘Brandblussers’ (fire extinguishers) describes what the business does. Using ‘Brandblussers’ will raise fewer objections than using ‘Heineken’ will.

Of course, this applies the other way around, too. If you give your business a very generic name, then someone else can use it, too. Suppose you call your business Tuinonderhoud (Garden Maintenance) Groningen. If another business owner chooses the name Steven's Tuinonderhoud Groningen, there is usually nothing you can do about it. Adding the name Steven makes the business name unique. You can avoid this by adding something unique to your business name yourself.

Are the activities the same?

Every name you find is accompanied by information on the sector in which the business is active. It is a good idea to check the website of businesses with a similar name to see exactly what they do. Note that even if the activities do not seem alike, a certain degree of confusion could still ensue.

Example: if a trade name is generally known (such as Heineken), the activities and the sector will not really matter. You can assume that confusion will arise. Even when your Heineken provides cleaners and not beer.

Do you operate in the same region?

For each name, the tool shows in which city the business is located. Not only the location is important, but also in which region the company's target group lives. This is what we call scope. As more and more businesses are active online, the scope is growing.

Example: If your clothes shop in Leeuwarden has the same name as one in Sittard, you won't really get in each other's way. But if you start an online shop under the same name, it could confuse customers of your namesake in Sittard.

Step 5: Check whether your business name is a brand or domain name

Before you make a definite choice regarding your business name, check whether the domain name (website name) is still available. And whether your name is still available as a brand name. Finally, you want to know whether the name already exists abroad. Are you not sure about this? Then you can hire a trademark agency for a trade name search.

Is your business name a brand name?

At the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP), you can check whether your company name is registered as a trademark. Do you call your snack bar McRonald's? Then you can expect problems with the owners of McDonald's.

Is your domain name still available?

You can check that 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 KVK. When you register in the Business Register, your name becomes public. Someone else could then register 'your' domain name before you have done so.

Is your domain name taken? You might still be able to use your desired domain name with these solutions.

Are foreign company names similar to your name?

See if foreign company names are similar to yours. Is this business also known in the Netherlands? If so, it is better to choose a different name. Using a search engine, you can quickly see whether a company name is already in use. Often, the company name is registered with a trademark office. You can check this at BOIP.

Registering, changing or adding a business name

When you register your new business, KVK registers your company name. Not only can you register a company name, but you must register your business in full, including its legal structure. Do you want to change your company name? Or do you want to add an extra company name? You can do so by submitting a change form to KVK.