Startup Process: Ways to Find a Business Name

While finding a great business name is one aspect of the startup process, formal registration can protect other companies with similar names. A registered trade or fictitious name (DBA) can also add credibility to an online company, as contemporary online customers often research businesses before purchasing.

Determine Your Company’s Purpose

Determining your company’s purpose is the first step in business name registration. It will help you choose a business structure, develop a plan of action and set goals for your new company. You can look at possible names once you’ve determined your business’s purpose. You should also conduct a federal trademark search to ensure no one else uses your chosen word. Naming laws vary by state, so reviewing the regulations for each state you want to operate in is important. You can register your company name as a legal entity, a trademark or a trade name. Some counties and localities could demand that you file your company name with the state along with a DBA or “doing business as” registration. It will allow you to protect your company name in that particular county. However, this does not save on a statewide basis.

Create a List of Possible Business Names

Once you have determined your company’s purpose and if you will register your business as an LLC, corporation or informal structure like a sole proprietorship, it is time to brainstorm business name ideas. Use online tools to help develop made-up words that are catchy, meaningful and easy to pronounce. Ensure the monikers you are considering are available at the county and state levels and do not sound too similar to existing business names. A similar business name may confuse customers or lead to trademark violations. For informal business structures like a sole proprietorship, you may only need to file a “doing business as” (DBA) or fictitious name application with a local county office or state agency. This process is typically more simple than registering a formal entity. Consult a professional to understand the specific business registration requirements naming rules, and procedures that apply to your business structure and location.

Conduct a Business Entity Search

Once you have a list of potential business names, it’s important to check with your state’s secretary of state office or business division. It will give you information on existing businesses, including their filing date and status and the type of entity (corporation, limited liability company, partnership or sole proprietorship). Some states also offer searchable databases of federal trademarks. It will help you determine if your desired name is already taken and save time on other titles. Knowing if you should register your business as a trademark, DBA, or LLC is also helpful, as this will affect how the registration process works. Many secretary of state offices provide step-by-step instructions to guide new businesses through the registration process. Massachusetts, for example, provides a tool that allows users to search businesses by name and will indicate if the name is available or reserved. The tool also includes links to other state resources, such as the Small Business Assistance Center.

Register Your Company

Once you have found a good business name, it’s important to take steps to register it officially. It protects your name from being used by someone else and gives you legal protection. This process may vary by state but typically involves submitting paperwork like a name reservation or articles of incorporation for a corporation or LLC or a DBA (doing business as) statement for a sole proprietorship. You can also trademark your business name to gain additional protections at the federal level. Researching your state’s naming requirements is important, as the costs associated with registering a business name can vary widely by state. For example, New York requires a registration fee for reserving a name and filing a DBA. It would help if you also considered the cost of creating a logo, which may be an additional cost to the formation and registration of your company. Find your state in the dropdown above for more information on registering your business name.

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