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How to Get a Fictitious Business Name (DBA) in California
If you’re starting a business in California and plan to operate under a name that’s different from your legal business name, you’ll need to file for a California fictitious business name (often referred to as a DBA “doing business as” name). In this guide, we’ll go over what a California fictitious business name (DBA) is, who’s required to get one, and the step-by-step process to file for your fictitious business name.
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Important Note: It’s a common misconception that a fictitious business name (DBA) is a type of business structure. However, this is not accurate – A fictitious business name is simply a registration to use a name different from your legal business name. Since a fictitious business name is not a separate legal entity, it does not provide limited liability protection for business owners or taxation flexibility, as an LLC does. If you want to know more about the differences between the two, visit our DBA vs LLC guide to learn more.
- What is a California Fictitious Business Name (DBA)?
- How to File Fictitious Business Name in California:
- California fictitious business name FAQs:
DBA is an acronym for “Doing Business As” and refers to a filing that allows a business to operate under a different name from its legal name. In California, DBA names are referred to as “fictitious business names”. Fictitious business names are used by all types of businesses in California but are most commonly used by sole proprietorships and partnerships.
Sole proprietorships and partnerships are informal business structures that don’t require legal formation paperwork to get started. As a result, their legal names are either their personal name (for sole proprietors) or must include the partners’ last names (for partnerships). As a result, most sole proprietors and partnerships opt to file a California fictitious business name so that they can use a more credible and brandable business name.
Any business that will operate under any name that is different from their legal name must file for a California fictitious business name.
The first step is to develop a business name that is unique, memorable, and easy to find in a web search. For some helpful hints and guidance on making sure your DBA name is as good as it can be, check out our useful guide, How to Come Up with a Business Name.
Once you have determined what you’d like to use as your business name, follow these steps to complete your California fictitious business name filing.
To get a California fictitious business name, you want to start with a business name availability search. To increase the likelihood that your fictitious business name application will be accepted, you will need to ensure that no other business uses the fictitious business name that you wish to use and that your business name is unique.
Why Having a Unique fictitious business name is Important
Your business name is the foundation of your strategic marketing strategy. Choosing a name similar to other businesses can get you lost in the white noise of competition. One massive benefit of a California fictitious business name is that it provides you the one chance to break away from the pack.
Without the unique fictitious business name, you could be handicapping the best marketing and sales efforts to get your name out there. Worse yet, you could be sending business to others using a similar name.
To recap, we suggest that you do an extensive search to ensure the following:
- The fictitious business name is not currently in use nor too similar to other businesses
- The business name has never been used previously
Note: If the business name is available and has been used before, it is probably not all that unique. Also, the fact that the name is no longer in use could imply a lack of success on the part of the previous owners.
Searches to Complete
- Search the California County Clerks FBN Database:
Verify that your desired California fictitious business name is available in your county to register and is not currently used by an existing business. Visit your local county clerk’s website to verify that your desired fictitious business name (DBA) is available to register in your county.
- Check the US Patent and Trademark System:
Once you have verified that your name is available for registration, you’ll also want to ensure that the name is not trademarked. Since the trademark process is at the federal level, it supersedes any level registrations.
- Website Domain Search:
You will also want to complete a domain name search to check if the .com version of your business name is available. If you don’t plan to create a business website, you should still consider registering the domain name to prevent others from using it. Since you can register a new .com domain for less than $10 with namecheap, it can serve as a very cheap form of insurance against someone using the domain.
Once you have completed all the required name availability searches and confirmed that your name can be used, it’s time to complete your fictitious business name registration. County Clerk’s offices issue fictitious business names in California.
Document and Information to complete a California fictitious business name Filing
To complete your fictitious business name, you’ll need the following information:
- Your desired fictitious business name
- Name of the business owner, which can be a person or a legal entity
- Date when you started or formed your business
- Description of the nature of your business, including services and value
- A signature of a notary to authenticate the registration
If you would like more information on the business registration process for all four main business types in California visit our guide, How to Register a Business Name in California.
To get a California fictitious business name, you need to pay a filing fee in addition to submitting your completed fictitious business name application form. Since California fictitious business names (DBA’s) are handled by county clerk’s offices, the fee will vary based on your county. Fees vary from $10 to $66, with the average being about $35.
After submitting your fictitious business name application and filing fee, it will take 6-8 weeks to receive your approved application.
Once your California fictitious business name filing has been approved, it needs to be renewed every 5 years.
You can file for as many fictitious business name names as you need – there is no limit to the number of fictitious business names you can be issued.