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5.4 Choosing a name for your co-op

A co-operative’s name is the unique identifier of its brand and identity. This section outlines the requirements for choosing a name for a co-op business.

There are rules and considerations when you choose a name for an incorporated co-operative. These rules also differ between the legal form you choose for your co-op. This page outlines the requirements if you're setting up:

  • A co-operative society or community benefit society
  • A company

Co-operative societies and community benefit societies

If you’re setting up a co-operative or community benefit society, your business name should reflect its character and it should generally include a reference to:

  • The nature of its business.
  • Its membership base (if a co-operative society) or the people or community it is set up to benefit (if a community benefits society).
  • The geographical area it will operate in. 

For example, Leeds Community Bakery Limited (also known as Leeds Bread Co-op).

Before incorporating, you should check the following to make sure your name isn't the same or too similar to an existing organisation:

  • The register of charities, trademarks, domain names registry
  • Companies House WebCheck service

There is more guidance at the bottom of this page but we've provided a summary below.

  • It is the same or too similar to another society’s/existing company’s/charity’s name.
  • Regional, national or international pre-eminence is implied but evidence cannot be provided to back this up.
  • Royal, public authority or government patronage is implied but none exists.
  • The name is offensive or would constitute a criminal offence.
  • The name is in another language and its meaning is not made clear on application.

Occasionally some societies use certain words within a registered name that contains a trademark next to it. This can potentially cause issues for the society if the owner of that trademark sees the use of the word or collection of words as an infringement.

The simplest way to avoid any issues with the use of a trademark in a society name is to obtain permission from the owner of that trademark to use the word(s) in the registered name of the new society.

If the society believes that no reasonable person would assume a connection between the new society and the existing trademark and the activities of the society are not connected to those listed on the trademark(s) then the applicant can request to use the word or expression and explain their reasoning.

The reason for the extra level of checks from the FCA is that there is no mechanism in the Co-operative and Community Benefit Society Act 2014 for a society to be challenged on the name and similarly no express power given to the FCA to order a society to change its name. This means it would be a lengthier and more costly process to change a name once registered and as part of the FCA’s due diligence they must protect the society and themselves from any future legal claims against them.

For more information on society names, you can read the FCA guidance and in particular, section 3.57 and annex 1. Click here to download the guidance.

To search the trademark register click here

  • The society name must end with the word ‘Limited’ or or the suffix ‘Ltd’ – unless the FCA has provided permission to omit it. (SEE FOOTNOTE 1). 
  • If the proposed name is in Welsh and the registered office is situated in Wales, societies must use the word ‘cyfyngedig’ or the abbreviation ‘cyf'. 
  • A community benefit society cannot be registered with the term ‘co-operative’ in its name.
  • The FCA has guidance on the use of certain terms in society names. Commonly requested terms where permission for use in a society name is required from the FCA are: 
    • ...British, ...Welsh, …Scottish and other words which imply national or international pre-eminence.
    • ...Authority, Council, Board and other words which imply business pre-eminence or representative or authoritative status.
    • ...Charity, Foundation, Group, Trust which imply specific objects or functions.

For co-operative private limited companies

There are no rules for a company name. But, before incorporating, you need to check the following to make sure it's not the same as an existing company on the Register of Companies:

  • The register of charities, trademarks, domain names registry
  • Companies House WebCheck service

An example of a ‘same as’ name includes ‘Plum Technology Limited’ and ‘Plum Technology & Company Ltd’. In this example, the word ‘Company’ is disregarded as a distinguishing term when determining whether the companies names are the same.

Naming rules are strict. A name may be ‘too like’ an existing name if it differs from another name on the index by only a few characters, signs symbols or punctuation – or if it looks and sounds the same.

Once the company is registered with ‘Limited’ or ‘Ltd’, ‘Community Interest Company’ or ‘C.I.C’ or their Welsh equivalents, it forms part of the company’s name and should be used consistently.

Companies House has regulations on the requirements for the use of certain terms in company names. Read the guidance

To use 'co-operative' in the name, a company must be able to evidence in the governing document that:

  • The company is owned and controlled by its members, customers or employees.
  • Membership is voluntary and open i.e. it should not be artificially restricted in order to increase the value of the business or its assets.
  • Members are able to participate in the economic activity of the business.
  • Profits will be distributed in an equitable way among the membership. If not equally, then at least in proportion to the extent each member has participated in the business.

  • A name of a private company limited by guarantee or by shares must end with the word ‘Limited’ or the suffix ‘Ltd’. The FCA may give permission for a society to omit the word ‘limited’ from its name if it is satisfied that the society’s objectives are wholly charitable or benevolent.
  • If the proposed name is in Welsh and its registered office is situated in Wales, societies must use the word ‘cyfyngedig’ or the abbreviation ‘cyf'. 
  • A community interest company must use the words 'community interest company' or the suffix ‘CIC’. 
  • If the proposed name is in Welsh and the registered office is situated in Wales, Welsh equivalents must be used instead.

Below lists common times where evidence and/or permission is required in order for them to be used in the company name include:

  • British..., Welsh..., Scottish... Cannot be used if they imply a connection to the government of that jurisdiction.
  • Association. Can be used if the company is limited by guarantee and its governing document includes:
    • Objects that reflect the specific purpose of the company.
    • A one member one vote clause; and a non-profit distribution clause which provides that any profits should be used to further the objects of the company and not paid members as dividends
  • Trust. Use depends on the reasons you give for using it in your company name. The would likely be operating as an artistic, educational, charitable, enterprise, family, investment, financial, pensions, staff or unit trust. You should be able to provide evidence that meets the registrar’s requirements for approval as set out in the guidance.
  • Credit union. An example of a term controlled by other legislation – in this case the Credit Union Act 1979. Its improper use could constitute a criminal office. You must get permission from the Financial Conduct Authority before a company can include this term in its name.

Naming your co-op

What's in a name? There are legal requirements for choosing and using the name of your co-operative. Read our in depth guides. 

Choosing and using a co-op company name cover
Choosing and using a co-operative company name
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Choosing and using a co-op society name cover
Choosing and using a co-operative society name
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Creating a subsidiary organisation cover
Creating a subsidiary organisation
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Now you're clear on your co-op name, move on to choosing your co-op's governing document