Choosing a business name
You want a suitable business name. A good business name can of course contribute to the success of your business. This makes selecting the right name one of the most important decisions you will be making.
It might be advisable to consider any dreams of taking your business abroad as well. What does the chosen business name sound like in English, Spanish or German? Are you certain that it does not have a strange meaning in another language, such as Chinese?
Registering, changing or adding a business name
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 the Chamber of Commerce.
Step 1: Coming up with a good business name
If you select a business name and use this to indicate your business, it is officially referred to as a 'trade name'. This means there are certain rules you must adhere to.
- Do not create a wrong impression
You may not represent 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 of course create the impression that there are multiple owners. You may only use the words 'bank', 'architect' or 'accountant' in your business name if you are one. Furthermore, 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.
- Do not use the brand names of others
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.
- Only use symbols which are permitted
The following symbols are permitted: @ & +. Other special symbols such as () ? ! * # / may not be used in your business name.
- Prevent confusion with existing trade names
You may not use a business name which could cause confusion to others (such as customers or suppliers) because the name resembles an existing trade name. Whether confusion could arise depends on such things as:
During step 2 below, check whether your business name (or a name that resembles it) is already in use as a trade name.
- 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.
- Does another business name resemble your business name?
Do you find the business name of another business misleading or confusing? If so, first try to resolve matters between yourselves. Does this prove impossible? In that case, you can begin legal proceedings in court.
Step 2: Check whether your business name can already be found in the Commercial Register
You can check your business name with the tool on this page (only in Dutch – stap 2).
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.
- If your name comprises multiple words like, for example, 'Brandblussers Heineken' (Heineken Fire Extinguishers), first search for ‘Heineken’ (the most distinctive part of this name), but also for ‘Brandblussers Heineken’. This will give the best result, although it may give too many results. In that case you could try to select a more distinctive name. Extra search terms will often yield extra matches.
- Do you have any numbers, punctuation marks or diacritics in your name? Search software is not yet able to (properly) search for these. It will yield either too many results, no results or only an exact match.
- Would you like to conduct further research into the trade names which are found? You can peruse the details of the business in question through the Commercial Register, if you wish.
- Always use http://www.kvk.nl/zoeken/ to find out whether your business name already exists. It is also advisable to consult a search engine. We cannot guarantee that all names resembling your business name will actually be found or displayed via the search software if this step-by-step plan is followed.
Step 3: Judge the existing ‘trade names’
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 in this regard. 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 Commercial 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.
- Is there any overlap in ‘operational area’ or is this to be expected in future?
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 are customers to be found? 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 4: Check whether your business name occurs as a brand name 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 occurs abroad. Note that such information cannot be found in the Commercial 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 this foreign name still has brand recognition in the Netherlands, you will also have to assess this foreign name as to any confusion it may cause. Of course entrepreneurs must guard against infringing a trade name of a foreign company. However, any protection regarding the use of a trade name does need to be connected to brand recognition. If a business uses the same trade name abroad and this is only known locally, this is not necessarily 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 Chamber of Commerce. When you register with the Chamber of Commerce, your name is made public. This could lead to some party quickly registering the domain name. Unfortunately this occurs quite often.