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Your business name is your brand. It’s what people will see and remember first, so it’s essential to get it right. If you want to register a business name, know that it isn’t just about choosing a catchy moniker. It’s also about protecting your legal rights and ensuring no one else can use your name.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the process of registering a business name, step by step. We’ll cover everything from choosing a business name to filing the paperwork.
So whether you’re just starting out or you’re looking to rebrand, read on to learn how to register a business name the right way.
TL;DR: To register a business name, you can either form a legal business entity, such as an LLC or corporation, or file for a “Doing Business As” (DBA) name with your state’s business division.
Registering Your Business Name – Step-by-Step Guide
- Step 1: Select a unique business name
- Step 2: Study legal business name requirements
- Step 3: Register the business
How to register a business name in every US state:
Step 1 – Select a Unique Business Name
The initial task when registering a new business name is to verify its uniqueness, ensuring that no other entity within your state has already established a company or reserved the same name. This can be accomplished by the following:
Business Name Availability Search
The first step in registering a business name is to perform a business entity name search. This search can be done on your state’s Secretary of State website. It’s important to perform this search before filing for a business name. If the name you choose is already taken, you won’t be able to register your business name.
The search requirements depend on your business needs. For instance, you need a unique and available name for:
- Creating formal business structures like an LLC or Corporation
- Name reservation for an LLC or corporation
- Filing a DBA (doing business as) for an existing business
Domain Name Search
We advise you to verify the availability of your business name as a web domain (URL) as well. Even if you currently have no intentions of creating a business website, acquiring the web address can be a wise step to prevent others from obtaining it. The search for domain availability is free of charge.
Federal Trademark Search
It would also be best to search the US Trademark Electronic Search System to determine if your chosen name has already been trademarked by someone else. Once you confirm the name’s availability, you have the option to apply for a trademark for your business, bearing in mind that the cost can be prohibitive for a startup or small business.
Even if you don’t intend to register a trademark, it’s essential to find out if your desired name is already in use.
Once you have chosen a few prospective business names, it is important to do some research online to see what else comes up when you search for them. This will help you to assess the potential of the names and to avoid choosing a name that is already in use or that is too similar to the name of another business.
You can do this by searching for the names on popular search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. You can also search for them on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. This will show you who else is using the names and how much online presence they have.
It is also a good idea to see if anyone else in your industry is using a similar name. You can do this by searching for search terms related to your industry and brand. If you find that there are other businesses with similar names, you may want to choose a different name to make yourself stand out.
Step 2 – Study Legal Business Name Requirements
Having learned how to discover a distinctive name, the next step involves understanding how to proceed with it, which varies depending on the business entity you’ve selected.
If you haven’t made a decision yet, the process of choosing the most suitable business structure for your new venture holds significant importance, as each structure comes with its unique advantages, disadvantages, and naming regulations.
Business structures can be categorized as formal or informal and dictate how your business is organized, operated, and taxed. We provide comprehensive coverage of naming requirements for the following business structures:
- Limited Liability Companies
- C Corporations
- Sole Proprietorships
- General Partnerships
Understanding the specific naming needs for these business structures will guide you in the right direction for your entrepreneurial journey.
An LLC, which stands for Limited Liability Company, offers a straightforward approach to structuring your business in a way that safeguards your personal assets in the event of a lawsuit. When opening an LLC, it is essential to choose a unique name that complies with specific naming requirements. Here are some common guidelines to consider:
- The name must include the phrase “Limited Liability Company” or one of its abbreviations (LLC or L.L.C.).
- The name should not contain words that could cause confusion with a government agency (e.g., FBI, Treasury, State Department, etc.).
- The use of restricted words (such as Bank, Attorney, University) in the name might entail additional paperwork and necessitate the involvement of a licensed individual, like a doctor or lawyer, within your LLC.
A corporation is an independent legal entity separate from its owners, encompassing a fundamental operational structure involving shareholders, officers, directors, and employees. Opting for a C corp business structure offers the advantage of safeguarding your personal assets. However, corporations necessitate a unique name that adheres to specific naming requirements. Below are some common stipulations to consider:
- The name must include the word “corporation,” “company,” “incorporated,” “limited,” or an abbreviation of any of these terms.
- The name must be distinct and different from any existing business already registered within your state.
- The name should not incorporate words that might lead to confusion with a government agency (e.g., FBI, Treasury, State Department, etc.)
A sole proprietorship is the most uncomplicated form of business. It operates as an informal structure, lacking personal asset protection and not requiring formal registration with the state.
Under this business type, the business must be conducted using the owner’s surname. If the owner wishes to operate under a different name, they must apply for a DBA (Doing Business As) registration.
General partnerships bear similarities to sole proprietorships but with a key distinction – partnerships involve two or more individuals. Like sole proprietorships, general partnerships adopt an informal business structure without providing personal asset protection.
In the case of general partnerships, the business name must incorporate the surnames of all the partners. However, if the partners desire to operate under an alternate name, they must file for a DBA (Doing Business As), also known as an assumed name.
Step 3 – Register the Business Name
Now that you know how to choose a unique business name, and what sort of business you want to form, here’s how to:
- Reserve a business name
- Start an LLC
- Create a Corporation
- File a DBA
How to Reserve a Business Name
In the majority of states, it is not obligatory to file a name reservation when establishing a new company or applying for a DBA (Doing Business As).
Nevertheless, opting for a name reservation offers certain advantages. For instance, if you come across a unique name for your business but are not prepared to register your LLC or Corporation immediately, reserving the name allows you to secure it for future use.
The specific procedures for reserving a business name differ from one state to another.
How to Start an LLC
Incorporating a business name is an integral aspect of the LLC filing process. When you file your LLC with the state, your business name automatically becomes registered. Although it is possible to reserve the name in advance, it is often not a mandatory step for the LLC filing procedure.
Setting up an LLC is a straightforward process, and it involves just five simple steps:
- Selecting a Name for Your LLC
- Choosing a Registered Agent
- Filing the Articles of Organization
- Drafting an Operating Agreement
- Obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
How to Create a Corporation
Incorporating a business name is an essential component of the corporation filing process. Once your corporation is filed, the name becomes officially registered. Although it is possible to reserve the name in advance, it is generally not a prerequisite for filing the corporation.
Forming a corporation is a straightforward process, involving just a few steps:
- Selecting a Name for Your Corporation
- Choosing a Registered Agent
- Determining your Corporation’s Initial Directors and Share Structure
- Filing the Formation Documents
- Obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
How to File a DBA
By filing a DBA (Doing Business As), your current or new business gains the ability to operate under a name that is different from its legal business name. This is advantageous for establishing a brand identity or modifying the business name without the need to amend the original filing.
The option to file a DBA is available for all business structures discussed in this article. However, it is important to note that the process of filing a DBA for LLCs and corporations may differ from that of sole proprietorships and general partnerships in certain states.
How To Change a Business Name
To rectify clerical errors and typos in your business name, you can often utilize a certificate of correction. However, if you intend to make a substantial change to your legal business name, the following steps should be undertaken:
- Adopt a resolution approving the name change. If shareholder, partner, or LLC member approval is required, the resolution must be signed by the necessary number of shareholders, partners, or members.
- Amend the business formation documents, which may involve updating your LLC operating agreement, shareholders’ agreement, partnership agreement, as well as the articles of organization or articles of incorporation, depending on your business entity type.
- File articles of amendment with the secretary of state or the appropriate state agency, accompanied by the necessary filing fee.
- Notify state regulatory agencies, taxing authorities, and licensing agencies about the name change.
- Update the business name on various accounts and inform clients, vendors, and suppliers about the name change.
Before registering the new business name, it is crucial to verify its availability in your state. Additionally, consider conducting a Google search to check for similar known business names, and search the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database to ensure the name is not protected by a trademark.
Do You Need to Register Your Business Name?
The need to register a business depends on your industry and location. In most cases, businesses such as limited liability companies (LLCs), partnerships, and corporations are required to register with the applicable state agency, often the secretary of state. However, sole proprietorships typically do not need to obtain business registration.
Business Name Registration With Local and County Agencies
Registering your business with local or county agencies might not be necessary; however, depending on the nature of your business, acquiring specific permits or licenses may be mandatory to conduct operations. Additionally, if your business operates under a name different from its legal business name, you may need to register your trade name or doing-business-as (DBA).
Business Name Registration With State Agencies?
In the majority of states, it is a requirement for businesses, including LLCs, corporations, and partnerships, to register with the relevant state agencies if they engage in business activities within that state. These business activities can encompass:
- Having a physical presence in the state
- Conducting meetings with clients within the state
- Generating a significant portion of revenue from the state
- Employing workers from the state
It is essential to review the specific requirements of each state, but in most cases, you can register your business with the office of the secretary of state.
When registering your business in a state, you must designate a registered agent who possesses the authority to receive official papers and legal documents on behalf of your business. The registered agent must have a physical location within the state where the business is registered.
Business Name Registration With Federal Agencies?
For the most part, registering your business with federal agencies is not necessary, except when obtaining your Employer Identification Number (EIN) for tax-related reasons. However, specific industries might necessitate registration, and you may choose to seek federal trademark protection. If you opt for S Corporation (S-corp) taxation status, you will also need to submit Form 2553 to the IRS.
Although registration with federal agencies might not be obligatory, your business is still obligated to adhere to federal laws and regulations. For instance, you must comply with workplace safety requirements as set forth by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).
Can I Register a Business Name for Free?
No. There are filing fee requirements for reserving a business name, forming a company with one, getting a DBA, and filing an amendment. You still use business registration services like Inc Authority which offers free business name registration. You only have to pay associated state fees.
What Happens If You Don’t Renew Your Business Name?
The consequences of not renewing your business name depend on the initial registration method. If you reserved the name but failed to renew the reservation, it will become available for anyone in that state to use.
Alternatively, if the business is dissolved voluntarily or falls out of good standing, the name might also become available for others to use, depending on state laws, unless reinstated.
Frequently Asked Questions
The legal business name serves as the official identification of the business for government purposes, including tax-related matters with the IRS and state registration. On the contrary, the DBA (Doing Business As) or trade name is the name under which the business is known to customers, clients, vendors, suppliers, and the public at large.
The trademark process for your business’s name can be accomplished in four straightforward steps. First, you need to determine whether a trademark is necessary. Next, conduct a search to check for existing trademarks. Once that is done, prepare the application for filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and finally, submit the application to the USPTO.
In order to give your business a legal name, you must either establish a company using the desired name, file a DBA (Doing Business As), or submit an amendment to officially change its legal name.
To formalize a business name, you can do so by either establishing a new company with that name, filing a DBA (Doing Business As) for an existing company, or submitting an amendment to change the legal name of an existing business.
The cost of registering a business name varies based on your specific requirements and the filing fees set by your state for tasks such as reserving a business name, forming a company, filing a DBA, or making a legal amendment to your business’s name.
Read more: How Much Does it Cost to Start an LLC
Registering your business name is a vital component when establishing a new business or undergoing a rebranding process for an existing business. This typically takes place as part of the business registration procedure with your state’s secretary of state. The specific process may vary depending on the type of business registration you choose, whether it’s a DBA, LLC, S-corporation, or other entity type.
About the author
Dr. Alexander Sterling, Esq, a distinguished legal scholar with a business law degree and a Doctor of Juridical Science, is a leading expert in business registration and diverse business departments. Renowned for his academic excellence and practical insights, Dr. Sterling guides businesses through legal complexities, offering invaluable expertise in compliance, corporate governance, and registration processes.
As an accomplished author, his forthcoming book is anticipated to be a comprehensive guide for navigating the dynamic intersection of law and business, providing clarity and practical wisdom for entrepreneurs and legal professionals alike. With a commitment to legal excellence, Dr. Alexander Sterling, Esq, is a trusted authority dedicated to empowering businesses within the ever-evolving legal landscape.