How To Name A Business

A happy business woman proudly stands by doorway of her business.

There are three steps to naming your business; choosing your business structure, picking a branding strategy, and making sure your name is unique.

When you put it all together, you get a great name and the cornerstone of a successful business.

Follow These Three Steps to Name Your Business:

  1. Choose a Business Structure
  2. Choose a Branding Strategy
  3. Complete Name Searches

When Naming Your Business Follow These Three Steps:

Step 1: Choose A Business Structure


First, you need to choose the best business structure for your new venture. This is the first step because different business structures have different naming rules.

Business structure refers to the way your business is set up, operated, and taxed. Each business structure has its own set of unique naming rules.

There are two categories of business structures:

  • Formal Business Structures
  • Informal Business Structures


Formal Business Structures

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

LLC stands for Limited Liability Company. Forming an LLC is the simplest way of structuring your business to protect your personal assets in case your business is sued.

Common LLC Naming Rules:

  • Your name must include the phrase “limited liability company,” or one of its abbreviations (LLC or L.L.C.).
  • Your name cannot include words that could confuse your LLC with a government agency (FBI, Treasury, State Department, etc.).
  • Restricted words (e.g. Bank, Attorney, University) may require additional paperwork and a licensed individual, such as a doctor or lawyer, to be part of your LLC.

For your state's LLC naming rules, choose your state from the drop-down above.


Corporation

A C corporation (C corp) is a separate legal entity from its owners with a basic operational structure consisting of shareholders, officers, directors, and employees. A C corp business structure will protect your personal assets.

Common Corporation Naming Rules:

  • Your name must contain the word “corporation,” “company,” “incorporated,” “limited” or an abbreviation of one of these terms.
  • Your name must be distinguishable from any existing business in your state.
  • Your name cannot include words that could confuse your corporation with a government agency (FBI, Treasury, State Department, etc.).

For your state's corporation naming rules, choose your state from the drop-down above.

Informal Business Structures

Sole proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the simplest business type in the United States. A sole proprietorship is an informal business structure and it doesn’t provide personal asset protection.

Sole Proprietorship Naming Rules:

This business structure must operate under the surname of the owner. To use a different name, the owners must file for a DBA (doing business as), also known as an assumed name, fictitious name, or trade name.

For easy step-by-step instructions for filing a DBA, visit our free DBA guides on Startupsavant.com.


General Partnership

General partnerships are similar to sole proprietorships. The difference is that a partnership consists of 2 or more people. A general partnership is an informal business structure and it doesn’t provide personal asset protection.

General Partnership Naming Rules:

General partnerships must include the surnames of the partners. To use a different name, the owners must file for a DBA (doing business as), also known as an assumed name, fictitious name, or trade name.

For easy step-by-step instructions for filing a DBA, visit our free DBA guides on Startupsavant.com.


S Corporation

An S corporation (S corp) is a tax structure. You can call your business an “S-Corp” but really it’s either a corporation or an LLC.

If your business is taxed as an S corp, you should follow your state’s naming requirements for either a corporation or an LLC, depending on your business structure.

Learn More About Business Structures 

To find the business structure that's best for you, read our What Structure Should I Choose For My Business article.

Step 2: Create the Best Brand Name For Your Business


Now that you understand the rules for naming your business, it’s time to consider your branding strategy. After that, we will start the creative work of naming your business.

Choose Your Branding Strategy

The next big decision you will need to make is whether your legal business name will be your brand name or if your brand will be separate from your legal name.

Most business owners prefer to use the business’s legal name as their brand name.

Legal Name: Your business's legal name is the name that is listed on your formation documents.

Brand Name: Your business's brand name is the name that you use to market your company. It is the name that clients see and use.

Informal businesses, like sole proprietors and general partnerships, are almost always required to use their surname(s) as their legal name.

There Are Three Main Branding Strategies:


1. The business's legal name is also the brand name.
If you are forming an LLC or corporation, you will register your legal name when you file your formation documents.

2. The business has a legal name that is different than its brand name. If you choose to have a different brand name, you will need to file a DBA (if allowed in your state). To learn more, visit our easy step-by-step DBA guide on Startupsavant.com.
 


3. The business has a legal name and multiple brand names. If you choose to have multiple brand names, you will need to file for DBAs (if allowed in your state). To learn more, visit our easy step-by-step DBA guide on Startupsavant.com.

DBA

When a business uses a name besides their legal name, they create a DBA (doing business as). A DBA is sometimes called an assumed name, fictitious name, or trade name.

To learn more about using a DBA to brand your business, read our What is a DBA article on Startupsavant.com.


Brainstorm Business Names

You should start by brainstorming at least 4-5 potential names. The goal is to come up with at least a few catchy and creative names. Then, we will help you make sure the names you chose are available.

A good brainstorming session lasts for about 15-45 minutes and it’s important that you are comfortable in all ways— think snacks and water, a comfortable chair, your favorite pen.

Use a timer and then stop when it goes off. If you need more time, take a 15 minute break and start your timer again. The more you brainstorm, the better.

Creative Brainstorming Techniques:

  • Free Writing. Keep your pen on the paper until your timer goes off. Don’t limit your ideas, don’t analyze whether they are good or bad. Just keep writing.

  • Word-association. Start by writing a couple of random words. Next, write down words that tie your two random words to your businesses mission, service or product. This exercise is meant to tease-out buried ideas.

  • Mind Map. Start with a circle containing the words “my business name”. Draw a line off of the main circle with each new idea. A web of ideas will form during your brainstorming session.

Naming Tip

If you don’t love the name you choose the first time, most states allow you to set up a DBA later. A DBA allows you to operate your business under a different name without doing a full legal name change.


12 Questions To Ask When Choosing A Brand Name

Now that you’ve come up with name choices, it’s time to think about some important tips for naming a business.

12 Important Questions to Ask Yourself:

  1. Is my name simple?
  2. How does the name sound when I say it out loud?
  3. Is the name easy to pronounce and spell and does the acronym look ok?
  4. Is my business name shorter rather than longer?
  5. Did I include a geographic location in my name? Usually you shouldn't.
  6. What do other people think of the name?
  7. How does the name compare to other business names in the industry?
  8. Does the name convey my mission as a business?
  9. Did I avoid trends?
  10. Does my name contain obscure words?
  11. Is my name too narrow or too literal?
  12. Is my name memorable?


Consider Using a DBA to Brand or Rebrand Your Business

Most states allow you to set up a DBA (doing business as). A DBA allows you to use a name other than your business’s legal name.

If you don’t love the name you pick the first time or if things change that make your name obsolete, you can usually create a DBA name and legally operate under a new name.

DBA For Your Business Structure

Owners of formal business types like LLCs and Corporations sometimes choose to brand their businesses with a DBA. Most sole proprietors and general partnerships need to use a DBA to create a brand other than their surnames.

To learn more about DBAs in your state, visit our state specific DBA guides on Startupsavant.com.

Step 3: Complete Name Searches


The final step for naming your business is making sure it's unique on the state and federal levels and that it's available as a domain name.

We will give you the step-by-step instructions to search:

  • Business Name Availability in Your State
  • Domain Name Options
  • Federal Trademark Records

State Business Name Search

The first and most important search is on your state’s business name database. Most states require you to have a unique name for your business.

We provide instructions to search your business name in every state on our state business naming pages. To learn more, visit our state specific naming guides.


Domain Name Search

We recommend that you check to see if your business name is available as a web domain (URL). Even if you don't plan to make a business website today, you may want to buy the web address in order to prevent others from acquiring it. It’s free to search.

Find a Domain Now

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Federal Trademark Search

Next, a quick search on the U.S. Trademark Electronic Search System will tell you whether someone else has already trademarked your name. Once you know the name is available, you can choose to apply for a trademark for your business but the cost is sometimes too high for a startup or fledgling business.

Regardless of whether you will be registering, it’s good to know if your name is already taken.

To learn more about trademarks and the steps you will need to get one, read our How to Trademark Your Business article.

What's Next? Starting Your Business Is Easy!

Once you’ve created a name for your business, it’s time to make it official!

Forming your business will help protect your name from being used by another business in your state. 

How To Form Your Business


There are two types of business structures: formal and informal. We will give you directions for starting both types of businesses.

Formal Business Structures

If you will be using a formal business structure like an LLC or corporation, you will need to file your formation documents in order to secure your legal name. 

If you’d like to operate a formal business structure under a brand name that’s different from your legal name, you will need to file for a DBA.

Limited Liability Company 

If you are starting a limited liability company (LLC), visit our Form an LLC in 6 Easy Steps Guide and choose your state.

For step-by-step directions for filing a DBA for your LLC, visit our DBA How To Guides on Startupsavant.com and select your state.


Corporation 

If you are setting up a corporation, visit our How To Set Up a Corporation Guide on Startupsavant.com and choose your state from the drop-down.

For step-by-step directions for filing a DBA for your corporation, visit our DBA How To Guides on Startupsavant.com and select your state.


Informal Business Structures

If you will be using an informal business structure like a sole proprietorship or general partnership, your legal name will be your personal name. To secure a brand name, you will need to file for a DBA.

Sole Proprietorship or General Partnership 

If you are forming a general partnership or sole proprietorship, then it’s time to protect your brand name by filing for a DBA.

Visit our DBA How To Guides on Startupsavant.com and select your state.

Naming Your Business FAQ

How Do I Name My Small Business?

Naming a small business is often a do-it-yourself job. Small business startup budgets usually won’t support hiring someone to help name your business. For easy step-by-step instructions on naming your small business, visit our how to name a business state guides.

How do I come up with a catchy business name?

The first step to naming your business is figuring out what business structure you will use for your new company. After that, you will brainstorm at least 4-5 possible names. The more you brainstorm the better. Once you have some names, you can test the names against best practices, name availability, and state guidelines.

Should you name your business after yourself?

Naming your business after yourself has its benefits. Unless you have a name like John Smith, your name can help you find a .com domain name. If you are coming up with innovative ideas or a new approach, using your name can help create a strong brand.

There are also reasons NOT to name your business after yourself. If you don’t want to be the face and name of your business, it won’t work. If your type of client or customer base would prefer a company name, then you should give them a company name to work with. If you want your business to someday run on it’s own, without you working there every day, then you shouldn’t use your name.

Can I sell my trademark or buy someone else’s?

Yes, you can sell or buy a trademark. A trademark is considered intellectual property which means it can be sold like property. It’s important to consult with an attorney before buying or selling intellectual property, especially trademarks.

Is my trademark application public?

Yes, your trademark application, including your personal identification information, is public. By law, your trademark information must be easily searchable by the public.

Where should I buy my domain name?

Our top choice in web hosting and domain registrars is GoDaddy. We like their domain search tool-- you can search for the exact name you want or make suggestions based on keywords and available names. There are also several other companies to choose from that will provide a good experience.

Visit GoDaddy to search for domain names.

Can I put the word “company” in my business name?

You can only use the word “company” in your business name if your business is a corporation.

Do I have to write LLC after my company name?

If you choose to use a limited liability company structure for your new business, most states will require that you use LLC after the name. You can also use the full term limited liability company.