Brand name, trade name, trademark — why are there so many terms for a company’s name? While it might all seem needlessly confusing at first, there’s actually a reason that these different terms exist. 

Names do a lot more than get people to buy from you. They can serve many functions — everything from attracting new customers to protecting your company’s legal rights. Brand name, trade name, and trademark refer to the specific purpose your name is serving. Here’s a rundown of the differences between these terms and what they mean for your business.

Brand Names

Aren’t brand names the same as company names? Yes — except when they’re not. While a brand name can refer to your company brand, it could also describe a product, service, or subsidiary. Company names most often refer to the overarching organization that manufactures products or offers services, while brand names usually help distinguish the specific image of a product or service. 

For example, Toyota Motor Corp. uses its company name as part of the brand name for many of its models, like the Toyota Corolla and the Toyota Camry. However, Toyota Motor Corp. also owns Lexus, but Lexus owners would likely be incensed if you referred to their new ride as a “Toyota Lexus IS.” 

You can think of your brand name as the name (or collection of names) you use to present your companies, products, or services to the public.

Trade Names

So what about a trade name? Is that the same as a company name? Again, the answer is yes — sometimes. A trade name is frequently referred to as a “doing business as” (DBA) name, which is probably a better descriptor for it, honestly. It is, quite literally, the name you use in trade, such as in advertisements, communications, and official documents. 

Trade names are usually the first step businesses take when establishing themselves, and they’re most often used to help tax collection agencies distinguish between businesses. Trade names don’t provide any legal protection for your business, so you might see multiple businesses using the same or similar trade names.

There are cases where trade names might differ from registered business names, however. For example, General Electric often uses “GE” in its advertising, but its official company name is General Electric Company. 

Trademarks

Here’s where things get tricky. Just because you’re using a company or brand name doesn’t necessarily mean it’s really yours — at least not where the law is concerned. That’s where trademarks come in. 

Trademarks provide legal protection to businesses for the use of names, logos, and symbols. It doesn’t matter if you’ve applied for an EIN under a name or if you’ve been using it for 20 years. If you haven’t trademarked your name and another company in a similar market used it in commerce first, they could potentially sue you for trademark infringement. That’s true even if the names aren’t an exact match or if they’re only phonetically similar. 

Trademarking a name — whether it’s a brand name or a company name — ensures that you have the exclusive right to use that name in your space. That way, another company can’t swoop in and steal your business or profit off your reputation with a similar name.

Making Sure You’re Legally Protected

If you take anything away from this post, it should be this: just naming your company or product does not necessarily give you legal possession of that name. Unless you screen your name for possible trademark infringement, you could be playing with fire.

And just sifting through the US Patent and Trademark Office’s database of trademarks isn’t enough. Trademark law protects not just those who have officially registered their name, but also those who were first to use that name in their space. Unfortunately, the USPTO doesn’t know anything about those unregistered businesses. It also only searches for names trademarked at the national level. But names can be trademarked by state too — so there could be a trademark infringement issue even if nothing pops up in your USPTO search. 

At NameStormers, we don’t just dream up unique, memorable names. We also put those names through the wringer, rigorously screening them for trademark conflicts, domain availability, and even cultural-linguistic issues for non-English-speaking customers. We can help you concoct fresh, vivid, appropriate names for your business, brand, or product, making sure that the name fits your every need. And we’ll do it all for a flat fee, as many times as it takes to get it right.

Contact us today to learn more about our business name creation services and how we can help you take the first steps on your naming journey.