How to Register a Business Name in Wisconsin

To register a business name in Wisconsin, you must first check to make sure your name is available by doing a corporate records search, a domain name search, and a federal trademark search. Afterward, you must register that name for your business — whether you’re going to reserve it, file for a business with it, or file for a tradename using our step-by-step instructions.


Choosing a Business Structure

Choosing a business structure for your small business is one of the most important decisions you will make.

The factors you should consider when choosing a business structure will depend on your needs and wants for personal liability protection, tax liabilities, and paperwork to keep the company in compliance.

This guide covers how to register a business name for the following business structures in Wisconsin: sole proprietorships, general partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), and corporations.

A cube with LLC printed on its sides

Recommended: We typically recommend forming an LLC to most entrepreneurs because this structure comes with personal asset protection, has no double taxation, and is pretty easy to maintain.

Steps to Register a Business Name in Wisconsin:

Registering a business name in Wisconsin depends on the type of business structure you already have or want to form. Sole proprietorships and partnerships are simpler than LLCs and corporations, but all of these business types have specific rules to follow in Wisconsin. They will have different filing requirements, naming rules, and processes to register or change names.

These are the steps to register a business name in Wisconsin:

  1. Make sure your business name is unique
  2. Determine your business structure’s naming needs
  3. Address additional naming requirements

This guide assumes you have a name in mind for your business.

If you don’t have a business name in mind or find that another business already took the one you had in mind, check out our How to Name a Business guide to learn what makes a good name.

You also can use our Business Name Generator to get some help brainstorming your business’ new name.

Step 1: Make Sure Your Business Name Is Unique

The first step in registering a business name is to make sure it's unique, meaning that it’s not trademarked and no one else in your state formed a company with it, reserved it, or has control of it online as a domain name or on social media platforms. You can do this by conducting the following searches:

Federal Trademark Search

First, a quick search of the Trademark Electronic Search System on the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website will tell you if someone else already trademarked your desired business name. This means that someone registered the business name with the federal government.

To do this search:

  1. Go to the USPTO.
  2. Click the Trademarks link in the menu.
  3. Then click the Search trademarks option.
  4. On this page, click the Search our trademark database (TESS) button.
  5. Choose the Basic Word Mark Search, which is enough to find name availability.
  6. Enter the name you want to use.

Once you have the list of results, check to see if it includes any live trademarks using that name — or something close to it — as well as what the use of that trademark is in the Goods and Services section of the search results.

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

Wisconsin Corporate Records Search

Next, use the Wisconsin corporate records search tool. This is an important step in the process because your filing will be denied if you try to file for a name already in use.

Search requirements can vary depending on your business needs. For example, a unique and available name is required to:

  • File for formal business structures like LLCs and corporations.
  • Reserve a name for an LLC or corporation before filing.
  • File a doing business as (DBA) name for any business structure.

A state-level name search isn’t required for informal business structures like sole proprietorships or general partnerships in Wisconsin. But, you’ll need to search the database to see if your desired name is unique and available if you decide to register a tradename — also called a DBA name.

Domain Name Search

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

Find a Domain Now

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After registering a domain name, consider setting up a professional email account (@yourcompany.com). Google's G Suite offers a business email service that comes with other useful tools, including word processing, spreadsheets, and more. Try it for free

Web and Social Media Search

Finally, when doing your research, it’s a good idea to check what else comes up when you search for your prospective business name online on sites like Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and more.

Doing this will show you who else with a similar business name appears on these platforms, if they have a large online presence, and how tough they may be to compete with while you build 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.

Recommended: If you find out that the social media accounts for your brand are available, register them as quickly as possible. It’s free and stops others from acquiring them before you have a chance to form your business.

Step 2: Determine Your Business Structure’s Naming Needs

Now that you’ve found a unique name for your business, you’ll need to register it to start doing business. This guide covers the naming needs of informal business structures, including sole proprietorships and general partnerships, as well as two of the most common formal business structures: LLCs and corporations.

Sole Proprietorships and General Partnerships

Sole proprietorships and general partnerships are the simplest business structures in Wisconsin, and they have similar requirements for registering a business name.

A sole proprietorship only has one owner. It’s an informal business structure that doesn’t provide personal asset protection or require you to file formation documents with the state.

A general partnership has two or more owners. You must file formation documents with the state of Wisconsin for this type of business using a Statement of Partnership Authority.

By default, sole proprietorships operate as the same name as the owner while general partnerships must include the surnames of all the partners.

A cube with LLC printed on its sides

To use a different name to conduct business, the business owner(s) must file for a Wisconsin tradename — also commonly referred to as a doing business as (DBA) name.

Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) and Corporations

Registering a legal business name is part of both the LLC and corporation filing processes. Once you file to form your LLC or C corporation (C corp) with the state, that process also registers your business name.

An LLC is the simplest way of structuring your business to protect your personal assets in case your business is sued.

A 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 also protects your personal assets.

Both LLCs and corporations require unique names in Wisconsin that must follow certain naming requirements:

Recommended: Learn How to Form an LLC in Wisconsin or, if you need a more rigorous operating structure, learn How to Start a Corporation in Wisconsin.

File a Tradename

Filing a tradename in Wisconsin, also commonly known as a DBA name, allows your existing or new business to conduct business using a name other than its legal business name. This can be helpful as you establish a brand name or if you want to change the name of a business without having to file an amendment to the original formation document.

All business structures covered in this article may file a DBA name, but LLC and corporation filing is different than filing for sole proprietorships and general partnerships.

A cube with LLC printed on its sides

Recommended: Read our full guide on how to get a tradename in Wisconsin.

Or, use a professional service to file your DBA name for you.

Name Reservations

A name reservation isn’t required to open a new company or file for a DBA name in Wisconsin.

Filing a Wisconsin name reservation can, however, prove beneficial like if you find a unique name for your business, but don’t want to form your LLC or corporation right away.

You can file for a Wisconsin name reservation by submitting a Name Reservation Application along with the $15 filing fee to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.

Once filed, your business name will be reserved in Wisconsin for 120 days. You can’t renew the name reservation when it expires.

How to Change the Name of a Wisconsin Business

Changing the name of a business in Wisconsin can be done in two ways: by filing for an assumed business name or by submitting an amendment to the legal name of an existing business.

The first method, filing for a tradename (also known as a DBA name), is the easiest way to operate your business using a different name without needing to change its legal name.

A DBA name is the only way for sole proprietorships and general partnerships to have a different business name. It’s also the easiest method for LLCs and corporations to follow because it allows them to avoid filing an amendment or complicating their business operations while enabling them to operate with brand names that don’t include the necessary LLC or Inc. suffix required in a legal name.

If you want to change the legal name of your LLC or corporation, however, filing an amendment to the legal name of an existing business is your best option. Here are links to forms for both options:

Both must be mailed to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions along with the $40 filing fee.

Step 3: Address Additional State and Federal Business Name Registration Requirements

After you form a new company, you’ll need to register your business — and its name — in a few more ways so you can pay taxes, conduct business, hire employees, and protect your business from others trying to use its name.

Get an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

After forming a business, you’ll need to get an EIN for a number of reasons. These include paying taxes for your business, opening a bank account, obtaining credit cards, hiring employees, and more.

Many business activities just aren’t possible without an EIN.

A cube with LLC printed on its sides

Recommended: Learn How to Get a Free EIN from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) using our guide.

Get the Right Business Licenses and Permits

To operate your business in Wisconsin you must comply with federal, state, and local government regulations. For example, restaurants likely need health permits, building permits, signage permits, etc.

The requirements for business licenses and permits vary by state. Make sure you read carefully. In some cases, you may need to take classes in order to obtain a specific business license.

Fees for business licenses and permits also vary, depending on the sort of license or permit you want to obtain.

Find out how to obtain necessary Wisconsin business licenses and permits for your business or have a professional service do it for you.

Protect Your Business Name With a Trademark (Optional)

Once you confirm the availability of your business name and secure it, you can choose to apply for a trademark for your business. This typically costs around $225 to $400 plus any attorney fees as well as a renewal fee every 10 years.

While this cost can be high for a start-up or fledgling business, it will give your company nationwide protection backed by federal law. That means if others try to do business with the same — or a similar — name as yours, you’ll have legal precedent on your side.

A cube with LLC printed on its sides

Recommended: Learn How to Trademark Your Business Name using our free guide.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you need a business license in Wisconsin?

While Wisconsin doesn’t offer a general business license, many cities within the state require businesses to obtain certain licensing to operate.

How do I register a business in Wisconsin?

To register your business in Wisconsin, either register it separately with the state’s Department of Revenue and Department of Financial Institutions or register for all applicable departments at once by using the Wisconsin One Stop Business Registration Portal.

How do I get a state tax ID in Wisconsin?

To register for Wisconsin state taxes, you must register your business with the state’s Department of Revenue after you register it with the Department of Financial Institutions and obtain your Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.

How much does it cost to start an LLC in Wisconsin?

Forming an LLC in Wisconsin costs $130 to file your Articles of Organization with the state’s Department of Financial Institutions.

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