How to Register a Business Name in California
When you start a new business in California, one of the first things you need to do is register your business’s name. It is important to complete this process properly to avoid future problems. Below is an overview of this process to help you understand and complete all of the necessary steps.
Before you can register your business name in California, you must decide what the name of the business will be. When trying to develop your company’s name, think about the brand message you want to communicate to clients. Your business name will help to form the initial impression potential customers will have of your business.
What Makes a Good Business Name?
Every business is different. However, in general, your business name should be:
- Easy to search for
- Easy to remember
- Unique and in line with your brand identity
As you think about different business names, follow these tips.
- As you look for ideas, focus on choosing a name that communicates a clear message.
- Think about the visual elements associated with your business.
- Consider an acronym, especially if you can’t come up with a simple name.
- Play with word associations related to your business.
- Experiment with different synonyms.
- Think about alliterations or rhymes that go with your business.
Before you choose your business name, you should also select your business structure. Each structure available will come with its own requirements, challenges and advantages. Considering all of these characteristics will help you find the most appropriate structure for your needs.
Why is your business structure important?
You may wonder why you need to choose your business structure before you finalize the name. First, your business structure will affect the names available for your company. In addition, the registration process will differ based on the structure you choose.
Business Structure Choices
Four main structure options are available to California businesses:
- Sole proprietorship
A sole proprietorship is one of the most basic structures available. If you are an individual who begins engaging in business activities, you will automatically be designated as a sole proprietor unless you pursue a different structure. Learn More: What is a Sole Proprietorship
A partnership structure is ideal for a company with two or more owners. When you structure your business as a partnership, you will file an information return instead of paying taxes as a company. Losses and profits will be passed on to owners. Learn More: What is a Partnership
LLC stands for “Limited Liability Company” is a more flexible business structure that can include several people as owners. This structure combines limited liability protection with pass-through taxation. Learn More: What is an LLC
A corporation is a structure that separates the owners from the company. In this case, owners will be called “shareholders” and will not be personally liable for debts or business lawsuits. Shareholders receive their profits through stocks and dividends. Learn More: What is a Corporation
If you’re unsure of which entity type to choose for your business you can learn more from our How to Choose a Businesss Structure guide.
In some cases, the name you want to use for your business may already be taken. Before registering the company, look for any other business in California operating under the same name. To conduct a thorough business name availability search, you want to complete three types of searches:
The first step in verifying if a California business name is available is to conduct a federal trademark search. Since trademarks are registered at the federal level, they supersede state-level registrations. Thus, you’ll want to ensure that your preferred business name is not trademarked. If it is trademarked, you’ll need to come up with a new business name.
To conduct a federal trademark search, you want to visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website and use the TESS Search.
Once you’ve verified that your name is not trademarked, its time to verify its availability to use in California. To search the registered business names in California, use the California Business Entity Search.
In your search you’ll want to not only verify that your exact business name is available but also that there are no other businesses using significantly similar business names.
Once you have verified that your business name is not trademarked and available for use in California you’ll also want to do a search to ensure that the .com version of your business name is available. While not every business will need or plan to build a website, we still recommend trying to register the .com version of your business name.
By registering the .com version of your business name you ensure that no one else can begin to use that website name. Since you can register a website domain name for less than $10 with namecheap, its an affordable way to protect your business name from being used by someone else.
As soon as you have chosen a business name, vetted it and verified it is the right name for you, it is time to register it. The process you need to use to register your new business name will depend on your chosen business structure. By this step, you should already have the legal structure of your business determined. The process of how to register a business name in California will vary slightly depending upon the legal structure you choose.
How to Register an LLC Name in California
To register the name of your California LLC, you must file Articles of Organization with the California Secretary of State. When you register an LLC, you will need to file certain requirements. For an LLC your business name will need to include a designator that clearly identifies the business as an LLC such as:
- “Limited Liability Company”
For an in-depth guide to starting an LLC in California visit, How to Start an LLC in California
How to Register a Corporation Name in California
To form a California Corporation you will need to file Articles of Incorporation with the California Secretary of State. The process of establishing a corporation is known as “incorporation.” Similar to registering an LLC, a Corporation in California must include a designator that clearly denotes that the business is structured as a Corporation, such as:
How to Register a California Sole Proprietorship Business Name
Sole proprietorships lack any legal distinction between the individual and the business. As a result, a California sole proprietor must conduct business under their personal name or at least include their personal name. If you plan to operate your sole proprietorship under a more brandable business name, you’ll need to file a California Fictitious Business Name.
How to Register a California Partnership Business Name
Similar to sole proprietors, general partnerships in California must operate under a business name that includes the last names of the business’ partners, such as “Williams, Smith and Partners”. If you plan to operate under a different business name, you’ll be required to file for a Fictitious Business Name in California.
If your business is going to be operating under a name that is not the same as the business’s legal name, you must file for a California Fictitious Business Name. Using a Fictitious Business Name can help brand your business, products, workforce divisions and services more effectively.
For a step-by-step guide, visit our How to Get a Fictitious Business Name in California guide.
To ensure your business name is protected, it is best to file a trademark. Fortunately, the process of filing a trademark is fairly easy and straightforward. Most people are able to complete this process without help.
You can find the application you need on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website.