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Choosing a Business Name FAQs

Choosing the perfect name for your company is an important step in forming any business. You want to find a company name for your startup that is catchy, but not being used by another business. To help you get started with this key step, the following sections provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions small business owners have about how to name your business.

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What should I consider when choosing a business name?

When you are brainstorming business name ideas you should try to find one that conveys what the company does while still remaining original. A great name for a business generally meets the following criteria:

  • It is easily remembered by your customers
  • It distinguishes your business from your competitors
  • It is available and has not been trademarked

What are the legal and practical issues of naming a business?

  • Is your business name available or is someone else using it or something similar?
  • Can your business name be trademarked?
  • If you plan on having an online presence to sell your goods or services through e-commerce, is the domain name available?
  • If you plan on using a corporation or limited liability company (LLC), or limited partnership (LP) as your business structure, have you complied with your state's naming requirements?

How can I find whether a business name is available to be used?

Once you've decided on the best name for your new business, perform a trademark search on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO's) database of registered trademarks to see if it has been registered. While a federal trademark won't keep you from using the name, the trademark holder may choose to take legal action against your company if it believes your use of the trademarked terms have harmed its business.

Finally, search the business name register for your state to make sure the name is available. This is usually the secretary of state for your state.

If you do find names that may conflict with your preferred business name, then determine whether you feel that your proposed name will cause any confusion among customers. For example, ask yourself:

  • Does the other business offer similar goods and services?
  • Would potential customers find the other business while trying to locate yours using a search engine?
  • Do you sell your goods or services through the same or similar channels of distribution?
  • Is the other company's name a well-known brand name?

What is a trademark?

trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, that creates a brand identity and distinguishes the source of the goods of the trademark holder from those of others. For example, companies like Apple and Amazon have protected their company name with a trademark. A service mark is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product.

To gain trademark protection for your business name, you simply need to use it. Whoever used the trademark first owns it. A trademark holder can go to court to bar anyone else from using it in a manner that causes product confusion. Although you do not have to register the name with the USPTO, it is recommended that you do so to strengthen your claim to a trademark for your business name.

Do I have to register my business name?

If you are running a corporation, LLC or limited partnership, then you must register your business name when you file the articles of incorporation with the state. If you plan on using a fictitious business name, you will have to register your name separately at the state or local level depending on your state's laws.

Can I just put an Inc. or LLC in my business name?

No, you cannot simply insert an Inc., LLC, LLP or other business designated mark into your business name. Those marks indicate a type of business structure and to use those marks properly, you must follow your state's rules of incorporation and file the necessary documents with the state.

What is the legal name of my business?

The legal name of your business is the official name of the person or entity that owns the business.

  • Sole owner of your business: if you are the only owner of your business, then in many states, its name is your legal name.
  • General partnerships: if your business is a general partnership, then the name is whatever the partnership agreement states it to be or, if it is not specified, the last names of the partners.
  • LLCs, LPs, and corporations: if your business is an LLC, LP, or corporation, then the name is the one you used to register with the state.

What is a fictitious business name?

fictitious business name usually is accompanied by "doing business as", "DBA", "trade name" or "assumed business name". To legally use a fictitious business name, you must register the name with the proper state or local office, depending on where the company is located.

Additional Questions About Business Names? An Attorney Can Help

It is usually not necessary to use a lawyer when choosing the right name for your business, but there are times when legal guidance can be helpful. For instance, a lawyer can walk you through the registration process or help negotiate with another business entity when there is a naming conflict. Contact a local business law attorney today and learn how they can help you establish a good business name that will allow you to build the business of your dreams.

When you are ready to form your business, use our simple DIY process to ensure you meet all the legal requirements in your state.

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