How to Register a Company Name in Canada

Do You Have to Register Your Company Name & How to Do It If You Do

Portrait of a store owner
Register a company name done & open for business. Image (c) Radius Images/ Getty Images

Do you want to start a business in Canada? Here's everything you need to know about registering your business name (For information on registering a business name in the U.S. see Have a Great Business Name? How to Register It.)

Do You Need to Register Your Business Name?

Almost all businesses in Canada must register their business name in their respective provinces or territories except for sole proprietorships that use only the owner's legal name with no additions.

All other forms of business ownership, including partnerships, must register their business names. Business registration is a legal requirement, not a choice. As per below, Newfoundland and Labrador are the exception to this general rule; in that province, you do not have to register the name of sole proprietorships or partnerships at all.

Form of OwnershipMust Register Business Name?
CorporationYes
PartnershipYes, except in Newfoundland and Labrador
Sole proprietorship using owner's legal nameNo
Sole proprietorship using other nameYes, except in Newfoundland and Labrador

Using Your Legal Name as a Business Name

If your business is a sole proprietorship and you wish to operate under your own name, the name must be your exact legal name - you cannot add anything to the name, such as "Inc." or "Co." or "& Partners", nor can you add anything that would give potential customers/clients a clue about what you do.

If, for example, you decide to call your business something such as "John Smith's Consulting Services", you have to register my business name, even if you are running it as a sole proprietorship.

Is It a Good Idea to Use Your Name as a Business Name?

Even though it is not a requirement, as a sole proprietorship you man wish to register a business name rather than operate under your legal name, for example:

  • If by yourself you are providing a unique service, as do consultants, authors, musicians, artists, etc. using your own name makes sense. If your business is in another industry such as manufacturing and you intend to eventually expand the business by incorporating and/or taking on partners and employees then probably not. 
  • If you have a common name such as "Bob Smith" and you are hoping for clients to easily find you on the web, using your own name is probably not a good idea. 
  • If your name is long, has difficult spelling, or is not easy to remember you may wish to use a different name.

How to Register a Business Name

In Canada, once you've chosen a form of business ownership, such as a sole proprietorship, you register your business by going through the process of registering your business with the appropriate provincial authority.

Want to register a business in Ontario? You need to register your business with the Companies Branch of the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services.

If you are starting a business in Nova Scotia, you need to register your business with the Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stock Companies.

If you are starting a business in BC, you need to register your business with the Corporate Registry.

In all cases, the first step is to choose and register a business name, a process that often requires a name search.

From that point, the procedure you have to go through to register a business name depends on what form of business ownership you've chosen for your new business. (For information on the different forms of business in Canada, see choose a form of business.)

The basic procedure to register a business name for a sole proprietorship or partnership is to conduct a business name search, fill out the appropriate business registration form, and pay your fee. The Business Registration section of this website has links to all the different provincial registries to speed up this process for you.

Business Registration for Corporations

The procedure to register a business name for a corporation or cooperative is more involved.

Besides conducting a name search and getting a NUANS report if you wish to set up a named corporation, you will also have to prepare Articles of Incorporation, a cover letter and an incorporation application to go along with your fee.

How to Incorporate Your Business provides more details on how to register a business name for a corporation and explains the difference between federal and provincial incorporation.

If you have questions such as how much does incorporation cost, can you incorporate a business in one province and do business in others or how to set up share classes for your new corporation, see my Incorporation in Canada FAQs. This document also includes links to all the different provincial and territorial corporate registrars if you wish to incorporate in a particular province.

If incorporation is your chosen form of business ownership, you may also wish to read Getting Your New Corporation Up and Running, which explains what you need to do once you've completed the business registration step.

Business Registration in Each Province

Because business registration is governed by the provinces (with the exception of federal incorporation), the details of the procedure to register a business name will differ from place to place.

These articles provide detailed business registration instructions on how to register a business name in each province. Many include links you can use to register your business name online.

The Business Registration section of this website also includes information on how to register a business name in other provinces.

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