Even if you’re not incorporating, you will need to do name searching before you decide on a business name.
It may not be legally required for registration, and in fact, you may even be able to register a name that’s almost identical to an existing name. But if you do, and if your name is very similar to an existing business name or trademark in your field, you could end up with legal problems that cost you time and money, and at the end of it all, you may well have to change your name.
You can do a very basic search directly through your provincial government. For instance, in Ontario, you can search the database of unincorporated business names for exact business names or for individual words in a business name.
But since it’s limited to unincorporated business names, this kind of search is really only useful if you do find a match. Think of it as a “knock-out” search: If you find an exact match, your proposed name is knocked out of the running, but if you don’t, it doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. If there’s an incorporated company with the same name, even in Ontario, you won’t find it, and this could mean trouble. Or maybe there’s a registered trademark with the same name or a similar name, and this kind of search won’t find that either.
Your best bet is probably a provincial NUANS name reservation search, even if you’re not incorporating. It will cost a bit more, but you’ll get much better information – so much so that you may actually end up saving money.