Business name, trading names & legal names

A ‘trading name’ refers to an unregistered name that businesses could use before the introduction of the National Business Names Register on 28 May 2012.

A trading name is not a registered business name.

A transition period from 28 May 2012 to 31 October 2018 is in place to allow businesses who have unregistered trading names to decide whether to register them.

To continue using a trading name after October 2018, businesses have to register them.

The Australian Business Register and ABN Lookup still display unregistered trading names however they will be removed from November 2018 and only registered business names will be displayed.

Businesses are now required to register a business name when they want to trade under a name other than their legal entity name.

A registered business name helps customers find, identify and connect with your business. You can have multiple business names linked to your Australian Business Number (ABN).

See some examples below of when you should register a business name.

Read more about registering your business name, including how to register, how long it will take, the cost and more.

What’s a legal name?

A legal name is the name of the entity that appears on all official documents or legal papers, for example:

  • legal contracts and registrations
  • property leases
  • employment contracts.

Your legal name can be different to your business name and be determined by your Business structures.

If you’re a sole trader, your legal name will most likely be your own name. Other legal names include the name of a partnership, a proprietary limited company or an incorporated association.

Find out more about the Difference between a sole trader and a company.

Do I need to register for a legal name?

You don't have to register for a legal name for your business.

For certain types of businesses, your legal name will be a name that you've registered (e.g. for a company, the company name you registered with ASIC), but you don't need to specifically register for a legal name.

Do I need to register my business name?

If you want your business to trade under a name that is different from your legal name, then you’ll have to register a business name with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) using the Business registration service Beta.

Remember, a registered business name doesn’t give you full rights to that name. If you want exclusive rights and stop others using it you should consider applying for a trade mark

Here are some examples of when you should register your business name:

  • Tessa Scott owns a cupcake business as a sole trader. Her legal name is Tessa Scott and she wants her business to be known as Tessa Scott’s Cupcakes.
  • Clare Smith and Jamie Johnson run a plumbing business together, operating as a partnership. Their partnership’s legal name is Clare Smith and Jamie Johnson and they want their business to be known as Clare and Jamie’s Plumbing.
  • A proprietary limited company is registered with ASIC under its legal name Alex Smith Pty Ltd. The company wants to operate under the name ‘Ace Consulting’, so it must be registered as a business name.

Here are examples of when you don’t need to register a business name:

  • Charlotte Nand owns an accounting business and operates as a sole trader. Her legal name is Charlotte Nand. Because she is happy to operate her business as a sole trader under her legal name, she doesn’t have to register her business name.
  • Chris Smith and Josh Bright have a building business together, operating as a partnership. Their partnership’s legal name is Chris Smith and Josh Bright. They are happy to operate under their legal name, using all of the partners’ names, so they don’t need to register a business name.
  • A proprietary limited company is registered with ASIC using its legal name John Brown Pty Ltd. As the company will operate under the legal name, it doesn’t have to register a business name. In fact, registering the company with ASIC automatically registers the legal name as a business name.

    Legal Name

    Business Name

    Business Structure

    Tessa Scott

    Tessa Scott’s Cupcakes

    Sole trader with a registered business name.

    Charlotte Nand

    Charlotte Nand

    Sole trader with no registered business name.

    Clare Smith and Jamie Johnson

    Clare and Jamie’s Plumbing  

    Partnership with a registered business name.

    Chris Smith and Josh Bright

    Chris Smith and Josh Bright  

    Partnership with no registered business name.

     Alex Smith Pty Ltd

    Ace Consulting

    Registered company using a business name that is different to its legal name. The company must register the business name ‘Ace Consulting’.

    John Brown Pty Ltd

    John Brown Pty Ltd

    Registered company using its legal name as the business name. The legal name is automatically registered as the business name.

If you intend to protect your business name with a trade mark, it’s important to consider what you will trade under and whether it meets the requirements of a trade mark. If it’s a commonly-used name it may be difficult to register.

Register a business name

Can I update my business name once it’s registered?

You can’t update a registered business name, even if you only want to make a slight change to it. If you want to trade under a different business name, you must register a new one. You can either:

  • cancel your existing business name (if you don’t want to use it anymore), or
  • keep your existing business name (in case you want to use it later or for a different part of your business).

Do I have to register my business name in each state and territory?

No. You only have to register your business name once. After that, your name is registered nationally.

When I register my business name, is it protected by a trade mark too?

No. Registering your business name doesn’t give you any exclusive trading, branding or ownership rights over that name. Only a trade mark can offer that kind of protection. If you think your business would benefit from a trade mark, head to IP Australia to find out more.

Even though registering your business name means it’s registered nationally, it doesn’t mean that another business can’t operate with a similar name. If you require exclusive trading or branding rights for your business name, find out more from IP Australia.

Does changing my business name affect my legal name?

Changing your business name does not affect your legal name. The legal standing of your contracts won't be affected if you change your business name.

More information

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