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Choosing and searching a business name

Region: Ontario Answer # 208

There are several guidelines to follow when you choose a name for your sole proprietorship. The name should be distinctive and describe your business in some way. The name must not be misleading to the public and it cannot include obscene words. The words corporation, incorporated, or limited (or their abbreviations) cannot be used, since these words are reserved for corporations only.

You must be careful not to copy or come too close to copying another business name. If your business name is too similar to a name that is already being used, you may have to change your business name, and you may be sued. To make sure your business name is not already being used, you should conduct a name search.

Conducting a name search

There are three main types of name searches. You can perform one of the searches yourself, or you can order a search from the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, or you can pay a search company to do it.

The first search you should conduct is by searching various directories such as online telephone directories and business listings.

Second, you can conduct a search using ServiceOntario’s Public Record Search to see if the business name has been registered with the Ontario Government. You can conduct the name search in-person, online or by mailing in the form. There is a small fee for each name searched. This service is affordable and easy to use. This type of search is usually sufficient for a sole proprietorship that only plans to do business in Ontario.

Because the public records available at the Ministry may not be completely up-to-date, if you do not find another business using your proposed business name, you should still conduct a further search through a search company.

NUANS search

The third type of search is the NUANS search. NUANS stands for New Upgraded Automated Name Search. A NUANS search is the most thorough type of search. There is a small fee for this service. The NUANS search will reveal all registered business and corporation names and trademarks that are similar to the business name you propose to use. This search is necessary if you want to conduct business in provinces outside Ontario, as the search reveals all existing names that have been registered in Canada.

NEW Ontario Business Registry

Businesses can now complete over 90 transactions online through the new Ontario Business Registry. This includes:

  • register a new business name
  • renew an existing business name
  • dissolving an existing business
  • incorporate, dissolve and change a corporation or not-for-profit or charity
  • search for a business or not-for-profit corporation
  • file notices and other documents under other business law statutes

Currently, mailing or emailing documents is also still available.

Registering existing business: Existing businesses and not-for-profits who wish to access their profile or file documents using the Registry will require a Company Key. Businesses can submit a request for their company key at Ontario.ca/BusinessRegistry.

New businesses and not-for-profits should visit the Ontario Business Registry: all services page for instructions on how to create and register their new business.

Anyone can do a free search of the Ontario Business Registry to get basic information about a business or not-for-profit corporation.

Some offices closed

As a result of the launch of the new Registry, six service counters across Ontario will no longer endorse articles submitted under the Business Corporations Act. As well, the ServiceOntario counter at 375 University Avenue in Toronto has closed. Visit ServiceOntario for information on what offices are still open and what transactions can be completed in-person.

More info

For more information on choosing and searching a business name visit Government of Ontario, Business and Economy services, or the Federal Government’s Small Business Services. To conduct a NUANS search, visit nuans.com.

Get legal help

For legal advice and assistance with forming a sole proprietorship or starting another form of business, and for other business issues, contact our preferred experts at Kalfa Law, or call them now at 1-800-631-7923.



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