French Language Requirements in Québec: Part 7 - The rules governing business names

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Important Notice: On May 13, 2021, the Québec government tabled Bill 96 which aims to better protect the French language in the Province of Québec. While the contents of our firm’s French Language Requirements in Québec series reflect the current state of the law, the proposed legislation modifies certain provisions of the Charter of the French language pertaining to the language of commerce and business. Accordingly, in the event that Bill 96 is adopted, we will update our French Language Requirements in Québec series.

This seventh article in our firm’s French Language Requirements in Québec series will explore the rules governing business names. Below are the links to the other articles in this series:

General Rule

In order to operate in Québec, all businesses, with a few exceptions, must register with the Registraire des entreprises du Québec and declare the name(s) they will use to identify themselves (their “business name”).

The Registrar then verifies if the declared business name complies with certain rules, such as the rules under the Charter of the French language (R.S.Q. c. C-11) (French Charter). The general rule under the French Charter is that business names must be in French.1

Business names are generally made up by combining a “generic term” with a “specific term”.

A “generic term” is a descriptive term that identifies the nature of the activities of the business.2

A “specific term” is a term that is customized/unique to a business. It serves to distinguish a business from other businesses. It can be a name, a surname, an expression, a combination of numbers and/or letters, the name of a place, etc. 3

For example, in the business name ÉPICERIE GROS SAUMONS, “Épicerie” (in English, “Grocery”) is the generic term, and “Gros Saumons” (in English, “Big Salmons”) is the specific term.

Exceptions to the general rule

Though this article does not address all exceptions to the general rule, some examples of exceptions are provided below:

A business name may comprise of a specific term in a language other than French if it is accompanied by a generic term in French.4 For example, the business name ÉPICERIE BUON GIORNO where “BUON GIORNO” means “good day” in Italian would satisfy the French Charter requirements.

In addition to the exception above, the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) and the Registraire des entreprises du Québec have published guides (available only in French) regarding the rules governing business names: Les noms d’entreprise – Comment nommer son entreprise ou son établissement en français and Registraire des entreprises – Les noms d’entreprises au Québec. 5 These guides provide guidance for writing business names, including the following two practical examples:

  • In a business name, the generic term should not appear both in French and in another language. For example, ÉPICERIE GROS SAUMONS GROCERY would be incorrect;
  • In a business name, if the generic term is a word in French that is the same in another language (for example, “construction”), the generic term should be placed before the specific term; proceeding in such a way ensures that the business name complies with French writing rules. For example, CONSTRUCTION GROS SAUMONS would be acceptable as it complies with French writing rules, whereas GROS SAUMONS CONSTRUCTION would probably not be acceptable as it corresponds to English writing rules. 6

For further guidance and assistance in understanding the French Language Requirements in Québec, we invite you to contact a member of our firm’s Trademarks group.

The last article (Part 8) in this series will explore the sanctions businesses may face for violating the Charter of the French language and its ensuing regulations.

References

1. French Charter, section 63.

2.Les noms d’entreprise – Comment nommer son entreprise ou son établissement en françaishttps://www.oqlf.gouv.qc.ca/ressources/bibliotheque/depliants/20130513_depliant5d.pdf. and “Registraire des entreprises – Les noms d’entreprises au Québec”. http://www.registreentreprises.gouv.qc.ca/documents/publications/in-531(2021-03).pdf.

3. Ibid note 2.

4. French Charter, section 67 and Regulation respecting the language of commerce and business (R.S.Q. c. C-11, r. 9), section 27.

5. Ibid note 2.

6. Ibid note 2.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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