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Naming your business is one of the most important and challenging steps for entrepreneurs. How you decide to brand your business will play a large role in the success of your business.
In this video, we break down the process of naming your Michigan business into three steps: choosing your business structure, picking a branding strategy, and making sure your name is unique.
Steps to Naming Your Michigan Business:
Our guide will take you through the 3 key steps to finding your perfect business name. If you’re unsure of the type of business you would like to start, check out our detailed list of small business ideas, a great resource to start a business.
First, you’ll need to choose your business structure; this will make a difference when choosing a name because there are different naming rules for each structure. Next, you'll brand your business; this will show people who you are and what you are about. Lastly, you'll complete a business name search to make sure your name is unique.
Step 1: Follow The Naming Rules For Your Business Structure
Choosing the best business structure for your new venture is an important first step because different business structures have different naming rules.
Business structures can be formal or informal and are the way your business is set up, operated, and taxed. We cover the following business structure naming rules:
- Common formal business structures
- Common informal business structures
Limited Liability Company (LLC)
An LLC, or Limited Liability Company is the simplest way of structuring your business to protect your personal assets in case your business is sued.
Michigan LLC Naming Rules
- Your name must include the phrase “limited liability company,” or one of its abbreviations (LLC, L.L.C., LC, or L.C.).
- Your name cannot imply that the LLC is organized for any purpose other than the one outlined in its articles of organization.
- Your name cannot contain the words "corporation" or "incorporated" or the abbreviations "corp." or "inc."
- Michigan has a long list of restricted words that may require approval for your LLC to use in its name. You can see the full list here.
- The name of a low-profit LLC must contain the words "low-profit limited liability company" or the abbreviation "L.3.C." or "l.3.c.,", with or without periods.
You can also read the Michigan state statute about LLC naming guidelines for more information.
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.
Michigan 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. This includes reserved names. We will help with this step in the search for your business name section below.
- Your name cannot imply that the corporation is organized for any purpose other than the one outlined in its articles of incorporation.
- Your name cannot use the words “bank,” “industrial bank,” “deposit,” “surety,” “security,” “trust,” or “trust company” or imply that the corporation is a banking, insurance, surety, or trust company without approval.
- Michigan has a long list of other restricted words that may require approval for your LLC to use in its name. You can see the full list here.
You can also read the Michigan state statute about corporation naming guidelines for more information.
A sole proprietorship is the simplest business type in Michigan. A sole proprietorship is an informal business structure and it doesn’t provide personal asset protection.
Michigan Sole Proprietorship Naming Rules:
This business structure must operate under the surname of the owner. To use a different name, the business owner must file a DBA (doing business as), also known as an assumed name in Michigan.
Copartnerships are similar to sole proprietorships. The difference is that a copartnership consists of 2 or more people. A copartnership is an informal business structure and it doesn’t provide personal asset protection.
Michigan Copartnership Naming Rules:
Copartnerships must include the surnames of the partners. To use a different name, business owners must file a DBA (doing business as), known as an assumed name in Michigan.
In Michigan, you register your sole proprietorship or copartnership with the county. For more information on how to file with your county, visit the LARA website.
If you are forming a copartnership or sole proprietorship, then you will need to file a DBA to use a name other than you or your business partner’s surname(s).
For step-by-step directions for filing your DBA, visit our Michigan DBA How-To Guide.
An S corporation (S corp) is a tax classification, not a business structure. Both LLCs and corporations can be an S corp.
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.
Step 2: Create the Best Brand Name For Your Business
Now that you know the rules for naming your business in Michigan, it’s time to work on your business’s brand.
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. To learn more, visit our easy step-by-step Michigan DBA guide.
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. To learn more, visit our easy step-by-step Michigan DBA guide.
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 business's 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.
If you don’t love the name you choose the first time, you can 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:
- Is my name simple?
- How does the name sound when I say it out loud?
- Is the name easy to pronounce and spell and does the acronym look ok?
- Is my business name shorter rather than longer?
- Did I include a geographic location in my name? Usually, you shouldn't.
- What do other people think of the name?
- How does the name compare to other business names in the industry?
- Does the name convey my mission as a business?
- Did I avoid trends?
- Does my name contain obscure words?
- Is my name too narrow or too literal?
- Is my name memorable?
CONSIDER USING A DBA TO BRAND OR REBRAND YOUR BUSINESS
In Michigan, a DBA (doing business as) is known as an assumed name. A Michigan assumed name 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 copartnerships need to use a DBA to create a brand other than their surnames.
To learn more about DBAs in Michigan, visit our How to File a DBA in Michigan.
After you get your business name, your next step is getting a unique logo. Get your unique logo using our free Logo Maker.
Step 3: Check if Your Business Name is Available
The final step for naming your business is making sure it's unique using the following tools:
State Business Name Search
The first and most important search is on the Michigan business name database. Search requirements can vary depending on your business structure.
You can search the business name database on the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs website to see if your desired LLC name is available.
This tool is also useful if you decide to register a DBA, or fictitious name, for your company. For detailed information about setting up a DBA for your Michigan LLC, check out our How to File a Michigan DBA guide.
Not sure what to name your business? Check out our LLC Name Generator.
You can search the business name database on the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs website to see if your desired corporation name is available.
This tool is also useful if you decide to register a DBA, or fictitious name, for your company. For detailed information about setting up a DBA for your Michigan corporation, check out our How to File a Michigan DBA guide.
A state-level name search is not required for a sole proprietorship in Michigan. However, if you decide to register a DBA, or assumed name, you can search the Michigan business name database to see if your desired name is available.
A state-level name search is not required for copartnerships in Michigan. However, if you decide to register a DBA, or assumed name, you can search the Michigan business name database to see if your desired name is available.
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.
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 although 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.