If you are in the process of starting your first business, one thing you will need to do is register a business name. If you do not know how to register a business name, you may be feeling at a bit of a loss. The last thing you want to do is make an error that could cause problems later down the line. There’s no need to worry, though, as we have put this guide together to take you through one of the most critical parts of business registration.

Steps to Registering a Business Name:

  1. Come up with your Business Name
  2. Determine Business Structure
  3. Check Business Name Availability
  4. File your Business Name Registration
  5. File a DBA Name
  6. File a Trademark

1. Come up with your Business Name

The first step before registering a business name is to come up with your business name. When you are trying to come up with your company’s name, keep in mind the identity that you want to display to the public or your clients. Keeping this identity in mind will help you to determine what sort of business name makes sense for you. After all, when someone hears the name of your company for the first time, they will form an instant impression, and you need to make sure it is the right one.

Characteristics of a Good Business Name

There’s no perfect recipe to creating a perfect business name. However, in general good business names have 3 key things in common:

  • Unique and create an identity
  • Memorable and Easy to Recall
  • Easy to Search

How to Brainstorm Business Names

There are a number of different approaches you can use to brainstorm business names. This includes the following:

  • Focus on clarity when brainstorming ideas
  • Consider any visual elements that are associated with your business
  • Try rhyming and alliteration to come up with a name that is catchy and memorable
  • Experiment with different word associations
  • Play around with different synonyms to come up with unique variations of your keywords
  • If you have a complicated business, try an acronym

2. Determine Business Structure

It’s important to determine the structure of your business prior to selecting your business name. Different structures present different legal challenges and requirements, which will impact the choices that are available to you.

Why Determine Structure before Finalizing a Business Name?

  • Your choice of Business Structure will impact the legal names that are available to your business.
  • The Business Name and Company Registration process will differ based on structure choice.

The 4 Main Business Structures: A Quick Overview

There are four main business structures for businesses:

  • Sole Proprietorship
    This is one of the most basic forms your business can take. You are automatically deemed a sole proprietor if you are an individual and you start carrying out business activities.

    Related: What is a Sole Proprietorship

  • Partnership
    A partnership is a simple company structure for businesses with two or more owners. Rather than directly paying taxes, partnerships will file an information return. Any losses or profits are passed onto the owners in a partnership.

    Related: What is a Partnership?

  • LLC
    An LLC or Limited Liability Company is a flexible structure that can involve one or several owners, who are known as members. This structure is a unique mixture of pass-through taxation and limited liability protection for members.

    Related: What is an LLC?

  • Corporation
    Finally, a corporation is a type of company structure that is separated from the owners, who are known as shareholders. Owners have limited liability protection. Owners are not personally liable for business lawsuits or debts but they can enjoy profits via stock and dividends appreciation.

    Related: What is a Corporation?

3. Check Business Name Availability

You must verify the business name(s) you’d like to use, ensuring they are unique in your state. The last thing you want to do is find yourself with a lawsuit on your hands because you’re using a name that has already been taken.

There are four key searches that you will need to carry out:

  • Business Name Availability:
    The first step is to search to determine whether the business name you are considering is available in your state. Based on the business structure you’ll operate under your search may be different as some states have separate databases or entity search tools for formal businesses, like LLCs and Corporations, and informal businesses with a DBA name.
  • Domain Name Search:
    Given the importance of online, ensure that your domain name is available to register or purchase for a reasonable price. From GoDaddy to Namecheap, there are many places you can buy a domain name today. Do a quick search to ensure your domain name is available and how much it will cost.
  • Federal Trademark Search:
    It is important to make sure that the name has not been trademarked or word marked. A trademark protects the name of the business, so if someone else has already trademarked the name you’re considering, you’d find yourself in a lot of trouble if you were to then use it.
  • Internet Search:
    Finally, it is always a good idea to do a quick online search of the name you’re considering. This will ensure it is not being used by anyone else. If the name is being used by another company, you will find it more difficult to get visibility online, as they have already had a head start. Therefore, while it may not be illegal to use the name, it may make more sense to choose something different.

4. File your Business Name Registration

Once you have developed your business name and vetted it, it’s time to lock it up. The process will depend upon what business structure your business will use. By now, you should have chosen your business structure, so you can refer to the relevant structure below to determine the steps to take:

Register an LLC Name

LLCs are registered by filing Articles of Organization with the Secretary of State office in their home state. When registering an LLC certain requirements must be followed. LLC name requirements can differ based on the state you are operating out of. Nevertheless, there are a lot of rules that are common between all 50 states. These rules essentially boil down to your business name needing to indicate that the business is legally formed as an LLC. Generally one of the following will need to be included in the name:

  • “LLC”
  • “L.L.C.”
  • “Limited Liability Company”
  • “Ltd.”

Register a Corporation Name

To register a Corporation you must file Articles of Incorporation with your state’s Secretary of State office. The process for forming a Corporation, known as Incorporation, is slightly more involved than an LLC. The specific requirements for approved naming conventions will vary slightly from state to state, but generally follow very similar rules in that they must include a designator that makes it clear to the public that the business is legally formed as a Corporation. As a general rule a Corporation’s legal name must include one of the of the following designators:

  • “Corporation”
  • “Incorporated”
  • “Inc.”
  • “Corp.”

Register a Sole Proprietorship Business Name

Sole Proprietors have no legal distinction between themselves and their business, thus their legal business name is their own name or must include their name. For example, if Jane Doe operates a nail salon she would need to operate the business under her name or with a name like “Jane Doe’s Nail Salon”. If a Sole Proprietor wants to operate under a different name that is more brandable that does not include their name they are required to file a DBA Name.

Register a Partnership Business Name

Partnerships naming requirements are similar to the requirements of a Sole Proprietor in that if they operate under a business name that doesn’t include one or more of the Partners’ names, then they will need to get a DBA.

5. File a DBA

If a business plans to operate under a name that is different that their legal business name they are required to file for a DBA (“Doing Business As”) Name in most states. In addition to businesses that are required to file for a DBA, many business owners prefer to use a DBA name as it allows them the ability to brand their business, services, products or workforce divisions.

Depending on your local jurisdiction, a DBA may go by a different name. The most common names are:

  • DBA
  • Trade Name
  • Fictitious Name
  • Fictitious Business Name
  • Assumed Name
  • Assumed Business Name

The Process to File a DBA:

  1. Verify DBA Requirements in your Area:
    Look up the DBA requirements in relation to your state, as they can differ based on your location.

  2. Conduct a DBA Name Search:
    Conduct a search with the correct governing authority (State, County or City) to verify the name is not currently in use.

  3. File your DBA Application
    File your DBA application paperwork with the city, county, or state’s clerk’s office, depending on your business structure and location. There are a number of states that require your DBA to be registered with more than one government level. For example, for a sole proprietorship, you may need to file at the county and state level in one state, however, another state may only require the DBA to be filed with the county only.

6. File a Trademark

Finally, you may want to file a trademark to ensure your name is protected. The good news is that this is a simple and easy process, and most people are able to do it without any help.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website is where you will find the application for your trademark, and the majority of businesses simply need to fulfil the online application requirements, which should take you no more than one and a half hours.

State Specific Guides to Business Name Registration

For more specific direction on how to register a business name in your state, check out one of our state specific business name registration guides:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Business Name Registration FAQs

How do I register my business name for free?

The reality is that you cannot register a business name for free. Each state and local area that oversee name registrations charge a fee to file your name. For specific costs please refer to your state’s specific guide.

How do I name my small business?

To name your small business you’ll want to follow these basic guidelines: Make your name unique, memorable, easy to recall and search.

How can I make my business name official?

The process for officially registering your business name can differ based on the structure of your business. If you operate as a Sole Proprietor or Partnership you’ll want to file a DBA name. For LLCs and Corporations you can register your name by complete the legal formation with your state’s Secretary of State office.

Why should I register my business?

The most straight forward reason is to make sure you are legally compliant. Beyond following the law, if you operate under a unregistered name you run the risk that another business could register the name you are using. This would disallow you from using your business name going forward and could result in legal action and/or fines if you continue to use the name once registered by another person or business.