How to choose a charity name

Choose a unique, memorable name that people will remember when they are deciding to make a donation or looking to volunteer.

How to choose a name

As trustees, you’re responsible for choosing the name for your charity. You should:

  • check that there are no other charities with the same name or something too similar - if this is deliberate you’ll need to explain why - the Charity Commission may ask you to change it if it could be misleading to the public to have two charities with similar names
  • avoid using words or acronyms that could cause offence in English or another language – the commission won’t register charities with names that could be offensive
  • avoid misleading names, for example suggesting your charity does something or works in a particular location when in fact it doesn’t
  • check you have permission to use the name, for example if it’s somebody’s name or subject to intellectual property rights
  • consider choosing something distinctive so that someone can find your charity when searching the register – not ‘The Village Hall Trust’, for example, which might return hundreds of charities with these common words in their name

Charities with similar names

Search the register of charities to check that no registered charities have similar names to the one you want to use. You should choose ‘advanced search’ and include registered and removed charities. You can also search the internet to look for unregistered charities or other organisations with similar names.

If your charity is a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) it can’t have the same name as a registered company. Check Companies House to make sure that there are no companies with a similar name to your CIO.

The commission’s powers to change names

If you apply to register or change your charity’s main name to one that’s misleading or already used by another charity, the commission has legal powers to make you change it. Your charity will be responsible for any costs involved.

Usually trustees can change their charity’s name themselves, using a power of amendment in their governing document.

Disputes about names

The commission can’t guarantee, reserve or suggest a main or a working name for trustees. Also, entry of a name in the register of charities doesn’t create any right for the charity to use that name to the exclusion of any other charities.

Where there is a dispute over a charity name, the commission expects you to make reasonable efforts to resolve the matter yourselves. The commission will only intervene if:

  • the disputed main name is one that it has the legal power to change
  • it has evidence that the name is causing a high risk of confusion, detriment or harm (such as financial loss to another charity which has a very similar name and the confusion impacts on donations)

The commission’s staff guidance explains how it makes decisions about charity names.

Working names

Some charities have ‘working’ names, which they are known by rather than their full title. For example, Comic Relief and Sport Relief are working names for Charity Projects. You can also use abbreviations as alternative names, such as NSPCC. List any alternative or working names your charity uses if you apply to register it.

The commission doesn’t have legal powers to make you change a working name, but it can refuse to enter the name in, or can have it removed from, the register of charities if it’s likely to cause complaints, disputes, offence or public confusion.

Names in languages other than English

If you apply to register your charity you’ll need to include in your application a translation of any non-English words in your charity’s name. This is so the commission can check it isn’t offensive, misleading or too similar to another charity’s name.

Using ‘charity’ in a name

The words ‘charity’, ‘charity’s’, ‘charities’ or ‘charitable’ (known as sensitive words) can form part of your name. However, if you register your charity as a company, before it issues a Certificate of Incorporation, Companies House will need proof that the commission doesn’t object to the use of these words in the name.

Companies House guidance on company names lists the words and expressions it considers sensitive.

Commission policy on the use of the words ‘charity’, ‘charity’s’, ‘charities’, or ‘charitable’ by charitable companies

The commission does not object to the use of the words ‘charity’, ‘charity’s’, ‘charities’ or ‘charitable’ (known as sensitive words) when the company is a charity and this issue is normally considered as part of the charity registration process. If a company seeking registration as a charity wishes to use one of the sensitive words, it should submit the registration application prior to the incorporation of the company, and check the relevant box in the registration application form indicating that a statement of non-objection is required. If you are establishing a charitable company using any of the sensitive words please see our policy in section E6 of OG330 Names of Charities.

For non-charitable companies please see the commission policy on the use of the words ‘charity’, ‘charity’s’, ‘charities’, or ‘charitable’ by non-charitable companies.

Published 23 May 2013