Why you should register the name of your business
When you register your business name, the government adds the name to the state or local registry. Clients can find your business through this public listing. It also provides notice to other entrepreneurs that the name is taken. You can pursue legal action if another company in your area tries to use a similar name.
Ways to register a company name
There are three ways to register your business name:
You may be able to register your business name when you apply for your business license, though some municipalities have a separate application. In many states, you can reserve your business name for a year or longer as you prepare to register your company as a legal entity.
Registering an entity name
When you register a new business, you create a separate legal entity with its own name. The state uses this name to identify your business as its own independent body for tax and other purposes. If you’re planning to start a limited partnership, limited liability company (LLC) or corporation, your business entity name will be automatically registered when you file your statement of limited partnership, articles of organization or articles of incorporation with your state filing office.
Trademarking your business name
A trademark is a word, phrase, design or symbol that identifies and distinguishes the source of your products from those of other companies. For instance, if you were a beverage company and wanted to call your business “Joe’s Beverage” and one of your products “Joe’s Brew,” registering those names as a trademark in your state can prevent other food and beverage businesses in the same state from using similar names.
Federal trademark protection can protect your business name across the United States. Registering your business name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) allows you to defend your trademark ownership across state and national lines if someone else infringes on the mark.
Filing for a DBA
You can apply for a “Doing Business As” (DBA) if you decide to go into business under a different name than the name of your legal entity. Also referred to as a “trade name,” “fictitious business name” or “assumed name,” DBA gives you more freedom over what you call your business.
For example, if your name is Hannah McCarthy and you decide to do business as “Hannah McCarthy,” there’s usually no need to register a DBA. However, if you plan to do business as “Hannah’s Professional Services,” then you would have to register a DBA. If Joe’s Beverages decides to branch out into burgers, Joe can register a DBA under his existing trademark rather than registering “Joe’s Burgers” separately.
Requirements for a DBA vary depending on your business structure, state, municipality and county, so check with your local government office and website.
Conducting a name search
Once you understand how to get a business name, you need to make sure the name you want is both available and unique. This is especially important if you plan to file a DBA or create a formal business entity such as an LLC or corporation. You can use a few different strategies to conduct a name search.
Start with the Secretary of State website
Most states have an entity name search tool on the Secretary of State website. You can search this database for similar names to learn whether the one you want is available before you file registration paperwork.
Search the Trademark Electronic Search System
The U.S. Trademark Electronic Search System is available through the federal Patent and Trademark Office. With this tool, you can find out whether someone has registered a trademark similar to your selected business name. You can also file a trademark application if the name you want is indeed unique and available.
Check Google and social media sites
If another business exists with a similar name, chances are you’ll find them online. It’s not enough to simply search Google, however (although that’s probably the best place to start). You should also check social media sites, including but not limited to LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Bing.
Registering a domain name
If you want your business to have an online presence, you should register a domain name. Domain name registration is the act of reserving a name online for a certain period, typically one year. A good domain name for a business includes the company name, such as veganbytes.com. Ideally, you should make sure the domain name you want is available in advance, but don’t actually buy it until you register the name of your business.
Domain names are registered by Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and numbers-approved registrars. Because the registration process is centralized, domain names are different from both trademarks and business names because the legal owner of the domain name can usually prevent someone else from using it without filing a lawsuit. Once you register your domain name, no one else can copy or use it as long as you renew it regularly. However, even after registering your business name and purchasing a .com domain, another entity could possibly purchase the .org or .net version of the same name. If they try to use that domain to sell a similar product, you could have a case for trademark infringement.
Examples of business name registration
Here are some examples of business name registrations:
- Tiger’s Classic Cars, LLC. (Limited Liability Company)
- John’s Vintage Resale (DBA)
- EQUF Appliances, Inc. (Corporation)
- Smith Investments, LLC. (Limited Liability Company)
- MeBags® (Trademark)
- Yacks & Lane™ (Trademark)
Business name FAQs
These are the answers to common questions from people who want to know how to register a name for a company.
What questions should I ask during the process of registering my business name?
As you search for the perfect name for your business, keep these questions in mind:
- Is the business name you want available?
- Will your proposed business name get trademark protection?
- If you make a website for your business, is a similar domain name available?
- If you plan to start a limited partnership, LLC or corporation, have you complied with a few state rules for naming your business?
Even when you understand how to register a name for a company, proper planning will help you avoid challenges during this process.
What is the legal name of my business?
The legal name of your business is the legal name of the entity or person that owns it. If you are the sole owner of your business, its legal name is your full legal name. If your business is organized as a general partnership, its legal name is the name indicated in your partnership agreement. If your business is registered as a corporation, LLC or limited partnership, its legal name is the name registered with your state filing office.