Follow These Three Steps to Register Your Business Name:
How To Register In Your State
If you don’t have a business name in mind or find out the one you had in mind has already been taken by another business, check out our How to Name a Business guide to learn what makes a good name. You can also use our Business Name Generator to get some help coming up with one.
Step 1: Make Sure The Business Name is Unique and Available
The first step in registering a new business name is to make sure it's unique, meaning that no one else in your state has formed a company with, or reserved, that name. You can do this by searching the following things:
Business Name Search
The first search you will need to perform is a business entity name search, which is typically on your State’s Secretary of State website. This is the most important step in the process because if you try to file for a name that is already taken, your filing will be denied.
Search requirements can vary depending on your business needs. For example, a unique and available name is required for:
- Filing for formal business structures like LLCs and corporations
- Filing a name reservation for an LLC or corporation before filing
- Filing a DBA for an existing business, both formal or informal
In some states, a state-level name search is not required for informal business structures like sole proprietorships or general partnerships. Choose your state from the dropdown above to see its rules.
Domain Name Search
We recommend that you check to see if your business name is available as a web domain (URL) too. Even if you don't plan to make a business website today, you may want to buy the web address 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 a trademark, 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 Name guide.
Search the Web
Finally, when doing your research, it’s a good idea to check and see what else comes up when you search your prospective business name online on sites like Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and more. Doing this will show you who else will show up on these platforms, whether they have a large online presence, and how tough they may be to compete with while you’re building your brand.
It’s also smart to see if anyone else in your industry already has a similar name to the one you want to use. You can do this by looking up some search terms related to your industry and brand. You may decide on a different business name to make yourself stand out.
Step 2: Determine Your Business Entity Naming Needs
Now that you know how to find a unique name, you’ll need to know what to do with one. This will be different based on your chosen business entity.
If you haven’t already chosen one, choosing the best business structure for your new venture is an important step because different business structures have different benefits, disadvantages, and naming rules.
Business structures can be formal or informal and are the way that your business is set up, operated, and taxed. We cover all the following naming needs for the following business structures:
Limited Liability Companies (LLCs)
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. LLCs require unique names that must follow certain naming requirements, here are a few common ones:
- 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.
Choose your state from the dropdown above to see a full list its LLC naming rules.
Common LLC Naming Scenarios:
What you will need to do with your LLC’s name depends on if you are already in business or are forming a new LLC. For step-by-step instructions of common LLC naming scenarios, skip ahead to:
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. Corporations require a unique name and must meet certain naming requirements, here are a few common requirements:
- 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.).
Choose your state from the dropdown above to see a full list its corporation naming rules.
Common Corporation Naming Scenarios
What you will need to do with your corporation’s name depends on if you are already in business, or are forming just forming the business. For step-by-step instructions of common corporation naming scenarios, skip ahead to:
A sole proprietorship is the simplest business type . A sole proprietorship is an informal business structure that doesn’t provide personal asset protection and does not need to be filed with the state.
This business structure must operate under the surname of the owner. To use a different name, the business owner must file for a DBA (Doing Business As).
Choose your state from the dropdown above to see a full list its sole proprietorship rules.
General partnerships are similar to sole proprietorships. The difference is that a partnership consists of two or more people. A general partnership is an informal business structure that doesn’t provide personal asset protection.
General partnerships must include the surnames of the partners. To use a different name, business owners must file for a DBA (Doing Business As), known as an assumed name.
Choose your state from the dropdown above to see a full list its rules for partnerships.
Step 3: Register the Business Name
Now that you know your business name is unique, and what you want to do, here’s how to get the following actions done:
- Filing a Name Reservation
- Form a LLC
- Form a Corporation
- File a DBA for Existing Businesses
- Submitting an Amendment to the Legal Name of an Entity
Choose your state from the dropdown above to see the state-specific things you will need to do to register your business name.
A name reservation is not required to be filed, in most states, to open a new company or file for a DBA.
However, there are benefits to filing a name reservation, like if you find a unique name for your business, but do not want to form your LLC or Corporation right away.
The procedures to reserve a business name vary state to state.
How to Form an LLC
Registering a business name is part of the LLC filing process: once your LLC is filed in the state, your name is registered. While the name can be reserved beforehand, this is typically not necessary to file for an LLC.
Forming an LLC is easy and only requires five simple steps:
How to Form a Corporation
Registering a business name is part of the corporation filing process: once your corporation is filed, your name is registered. While the name can be reserved beforehand, this is not typically necessary to file.
Forming a Corporation is easy, and only requires a few steps:
How to File a DBA
Filing a DBA (Doing Business As) allows your existing or new business to do business as a name other than your legal business name. This can be helpful for getting a brand name established, or to change the name of a business without having to file an amendment to an original filing.
A DBA can be filed by all business structures covered in this article; however, LLC and corporation filing can sometimes be different than filing for sole proprietorships and general partnerships in some states.