Naming Your Provincial or Federal Corporation in Canada


General

Your corporate name should have three parts:

  • a distinctive (unique) part
  • a descriptive (describes your type of business or industry)
  • a corporate suffix at the end.
Additionally, the name for a new Canadian provincial or federal corporation must not cause confusion with another business, not be obscene, not be misleading, and not contain prohibited terms or prohibited connotations.

One of the primary reasons that corporate names are rejected is because they are too similar to existing registered corporate names, trade names, or trademarks. If you wish to register a named corporation, your LawDepot Incorporation Package will come with a NUANS search (or name approval request in BC and Saskatchewan which have their own name approval system), which will help to determine if your name is identical or similar to an existing name.

The Federal, BC and Saskatchewan governments will not allow you to register your new corporation if they feel that your name is too similar to another existing provincial or federal corporation. They also require that your name have a distinctive part, descriptive part and corporate suffix. Other provincial governments (such as Alberta and Ontario) also have regulations that prohibit such names but they will not prevent you from initially registering a corporation with a name that is confusingly similar or doesn't have all three parts. Notwithstanding your registration of a confusingly similar name in Alberta or Ontario, you still may be liable in a passing off action if you are in the similar industry and the public might mistake you for the other corporation.

Your name still must not be exactly the same as an existing name. A corporate name is considered to be the same even where there is a different corporate suffix or the addition or subtraction of punctuation marks or years.

You should put some thought into what kind of name you want for your corporation. As there may be conflicts with existing corporate names, you should have a couple alternatives in mind. Some experts will suggest that the best name is an abstract one so there are no preconceived ideas associated with that name. Others will think names should be informative, so customers know immediately what your business is. Some experts believe that made-up words (coined names) are more memorable than names that use real words while others believe the opposite. Just go with what you like as any name will be successful as long as you implement an appropriate marketing strategy.

Distinctive Word(s)
Distinctive Element

All corporate names must contain a distinctive or unique word or term that can be used to differentiate that corporation from all other corporations.

A name lacks distinctiveness when it is only descriptive of the products or services offered by the corporation. For example, “Motors Inc.” and “Windows Ltd.” lack distinctiveness. Both of these names would require the addition of distinctive elements, such as “North Toronto Motors Inc.” or “Johnson Windows Ltd.”

Words or terms that merely describe the quality of goods and services are generally not considered distinctive elements. For example, “Fast Motors Inc.” and “Mechanical Motors Inc.” would probably not be accepted. However, exceptions may be made when:

  • Alliteration creates an acceptable level of distinctiveness, as in “Magnificent Mechanical Motors”
  • The descriptive term is one that is not usually used to describe the goods or services offered by the company. For example, “Good Motors Inc.” is not distinctive, because any number of motors may be described as good. “Furious Motors Inc.” may be sufficiently distinctive, because motors are rarely described as “furious”.

Geographic Names

Geographic names may be used in corporate names, but only with the addition of a distinctive element. For example, “Toronto Grocery Inc.” would most likely be acceptable, because it has a level of distinctiveness.

However, geographic names are not distinctive on their own. For example, “Toronto Inc.” is unacceptable, because “Toronto” is not distinctive.

Names of People

Names of people may be included in corporate names, but only with the addition of a descriptive element. For example, “John Smith Painting Inc.” would likely be accepted, because the combination of the terms “John Smith” and “Painting” creates a level of distinctiveness.

However, names of people are not distinctive on their own. “John Smith Inc.” is not distinct.

Please keep in mind that you need to obtain the permission of the person whose name you are using. Naming your corporation “Jean Chretien Woodworking Inc.” might be good for business, but it is unacceptable if you do not have his permission.

Descriptive Word(s)
Descriptive Element

The descriptive word or phrase are words that describe the type of business or activity the corporation will be doing. Descriptive words are necessary for BC, Saskatchewan and Federal incorporations. While Alberta and Ontario won't ensure that you have a descriptive word in your name, they are technically required. Some examples of descriptive words are: construction, gardening, investments, holdings, group, accounting services, innovations, enterprises, developments, entertainment, software, productions, plumbing, etc. "Group" and "holdings" should only be used as a descriptive word where it will be a holding company.

You should not use a descriptive name that will too narrowly describe the services and products your company will provide nor use descriptive words that imply a service or products that you are not and will not be providing.

If the total name is too large then it will be harder to spell and may be an issue if you make the descriptive word as part of your web domain.

Corporate Suffix

A corporate suffix is the word at the end of the corporate name that indicates that it is a corporation such as Ltd., Limited, Corporation, Inc., Incorporated, etc. It doesn't make any legal difference as to which suffix you choose. When comparing your proposed name to existing corporate names, the mere change of the corporate suffix isn't enough to be registered for any of the Canadian jurisdictions.

Each jurisdiction only allows certain suffixes and our software only allows you to select the suffixes allowed by your jurisdiction that you are incorporating in.

Avoiding Confusion
Avoiding Confusion

A name will be rejected if it is likely to cause confusion with other corporate names, trademarks, service marks, or trade names. LawDepot will conduct a NUANS search for you before filing your Articles of Incorporation. However, if you adhere to the following guidelines before submitting your proposed corporate name(s), you can avoid losing time and money due to a rejected corporate name.

Famous Names

A corporate name will be rejected if it includes a trademark, trade name, service mark or corporate name that is famous.

For example, “Coca-Cola Plumbing Inc.” will not be accepted, even though the addition of “Plumbing” makes the name somewhat unique. “Coca-Cola” is a highly famous name (and trademark), and its use in a corporate name will cause confusion. Likewise, names with terms that are so similar to “Coca-Cola” that they are likely to cause confusion will also be rejected. For example, “Coke-Cola Inc.” and “Cocacola Inc.” will be rejected.

Highly Distinctive Names

Names can be highly distinctive, even if they are not famous. A name can be rejected if it contains a highly distinctive word or term that is already being used by another company.

A chain of retail stores might have the corporate name “Gwarinlo Stores Inc.” Because “Gwarinlo” is such a distinctive word, its use in another corporate name might cause confusion. For example, if there was a “Gwarinlo X-Ray Inc.” or a “Gwarinlo Pictures Ltd.”, the general public might be confused as to whether or not the different Gwarinlo companies are affiliated, even though the companies offer very different products and services.

Diluted Words and Terms

On the opposite end of the spectrum from highly distinct names are highly diluted words and terms. A word is highly diluted if its use is so common that the word no longer holds any distinctiveness. For example, the word “General” is common and there are many corporate names that contain the word “General”. It would be difficult to argue that the word by itself holds any distinctiveness. The public is unlikely to confuse goods and services offered by “General Baking Inc.” with those offered by “General Electric” or “General Motors”.

However, a proposed corporate name might still be rejected if it is too similar to another corporate name that contains the same diluted word. For example, “General Electricity Inc.” will probably be rejected, because it is likely to cause confusion with “General Electric”.

Obscene Words and Terms

A name will be rejected if it includes words or terms (in any language) that are obscene, or if the name implies that the company is engaged in activities that are obscene.

Misleading Names

A name will be rejected if it is deceptive or if it would confuse or mislead the public as to the nature of the company.

If “Delectably Delicious Inc.” is a catering company, the name should be fine. However, if “Delectably Delicious Inc.” manufactures nothing but rat poison, the name is misleading and would therefore be rejected.

It is important to note that the name of the corporation does not necessarily have to accurately describe the nature of the company. “Instant Clarity Inc.” is a fictional example of a corporate name that does not necessarily accurately describe the nature of the corporation’s business. However, the name may be accepted if it is not inherently misleading.

Prohibited Terms

The following terms are unacceptable. A name with one of the following terms in it will always be rejected:

  • “Air Canada”
  • “Canada Standard” or “CS”
  • “Cooperative”, “Co-op” or “Pool” (when used to connote a cooperative venture)
  • “Parliament Hill”
  • “Royal Canadian Mounted Police” or “RCMP”
  • “United Nations” or “UN”
Note: Certain French variations of the above terms are also unacceptable.

The following words and terms are unacceptable for use in corporate names, unless you have prior written consent from the appropriate regulators.

  • “Alberta” or “Alta”
  • “B.C.”, “British Columbia”, or “of British Columbia”
  • “Manitoba”
  • “New Brunswick”
  • “Newfoundland” or “Nfld”
  • “Nova Scotia”
  • “Saskatchewan”, “Sask”, or any other word or term that implies affiliation with the Government of Saskatchewan
You may NOT use the name "society" in a corporate name.

Prohibited Connotations
Prohibited Connotations

In addition to the previous terms, which are strictly prohibited, there are words and terms that are prohibited only if they have specific connotations or implications.

Government Affiliation

A word or term is prohibited if it implies an association with or the approval of federal or provincial governments and/or their agencies and departments. For example, “Province of Ontario Chemicals Inc.” and “Government of Canada Ice Cream Ltd.” would almost certainly be rejected.

A name will also be rejected if it includes the word “Canada” preceded by a word or term that is within the scope of activities in which a person might believe the federal government is involved in. For example, “Firearms Control Canada Inc.” and “Hockey Development Canada Inc.” would probably be rejected, as a person might confuse these for departments or agencies of the Government of Canada.

However, a name like “Fun House Mirror Canada Inc” might be accepted, as it is unlikely that anyone would believe that the Government of Canada is in any way affiliated with fun house mirrors.

Crown Affiliation

A name will be rejected if it implies Crown patronage or an affiliation with or endorsement by the Royal Family. For example, “Royal Family Funeral Services Ltd.” and “Queen Elizabeth II Jewelry Inc.” would almost certainly be rejected.

A name may be acceptable if it contains a term that can be, but in the context of the name is not, used to imply an affiliation with the Crown or Royal Family. For example, the name “Prince Albert Funeral Services Ltd.” might be accepted if the corporation was based out of or offered services in the city of Prince Albert, as the name would not connote Crown patronage or an affiliation with the Royal Family.

Financial Activity

If your corporation will provide services of a financial nature, your name should not imply that the corporation is a bank or offers the services of a bank, loan company, trust company, insurance company, or stock exchange, unless you have the consent in writing of the appropriate federal or provincial regulator(s).

Universities and Professional Associations

If your corporation is in a professional or educational field, your name should not imply affiliation with an existing professional association or university if no such affiliation exists.

Other Resources

For information about the differences between provincial and federal incorporation, view Provincial vs. Federal Incorporation

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