Choosing Your Business Name
Choosing the perfect name for your company is an essential step in forming any business. You want to find a catchy company name for your startup. Entrepreneurs need to ensure it's not so catchy that potential customers don't know what they sell. Your company name also can't be so specific that you are unable to expand and sell different products, either.
A great business name should consider legal issues like trademarks and copyrights. You could ruin your brand identity by having to rebrand if the name you choose is federally registered to another small business. Rebranding can confuse your target audience and cost you time, energy, and money.
To help you start the naming process, this FindLaw article answers some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) small business owners have when brainstorming new business names. Learn about fictitious business names, the process of registering your business name, and intellectual property considerations below.
Main Considerations in Picking a Business Name
When brainstorming business names, you should find one that conveys what the company does while remaining original. A good business name generally meets the following criteria:
- Has website domain availability
- Available on social media
- No trademarks pending or granted through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Business name generators may help you come up with quirky business name ideas. These artificial intelligence (AI) tools can't run searches on those names to tell you if they're in use by someone else.
Searching for Potential Business Names Already in Use
You have gotten to the point in your naming process that you have a company name you like. It's time to thoroughly search online to ensure it's available.
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Search
Once you've decided on the best name for your new business, perform a trademark search on the United States Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) database of registered trademarks. Look to see if there is an application pending or if the USPTO granted a trademark. A federal trademark holder can sue you if they believe your use of the trademarked term harmed its business. The existence of a federal trademark is evidence that you knew about the trademark in those lawsuits, even if you didn't actually do a trademark search.
Secretary of State Search
Search the business name register for your state to ensure the name is available. This is usually the secretary of state for your state. Check states where you plan on selling your products or offering your services. Eventually, you may need to register with those states, so it helps to search now.
Internet Search Engine Search
Use Google or another online search engine to see if your company name exists online. If there is an existing use of a domain name (website), then you may not want to choose it. You can also check GoDaddy to see if a domain name has been purchased.
Finding Potential Business Names Already Registered
If you find names that conflict with your preferred business name, determine whether your proposed name will cause any confusion among customers. For example, ask yourself:
- Does the other business offer similar goods and services?
- When looking for your company, would potential customers find the other business in a search engine?
- Do you sell your goods or services through the same or similar distribution channels?
- Is the other company's name a well-known brand name like Amazon or Uber?
Now that you have found the right name for your brand in your name search, it's time to register it.
Types of Business Names
You must register your business name if you are running a corporation, limited liability corporation, or partnership. This happens when you file the articles of incorporation with the state. If you plan on using a fictitious business name, also known as a trade name, then you will have to register that name separately (at the state or local level, depending on your state's laws).
The legal name of your business is the official name of the person or entity that owns the business. Your initial legal structure determines your company's name. You cannot insert a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or Inc. designation into your business name and get the same legal protections as registration. To use those marks properly, you must follow your state's rules of incorporation. That means you must file the necessary documents with the state.
- Sole proprietorship is the individual owner's name. But there are many reasons to file a doing business as (DBA). For example, Amanda Fraser owns a cartoon company. She can file a DBA and be known as Fraser Enterprises rather than just by her personal name.
- The general partnership name is whatever the partnership agreement states it is. If not stated, then it is the last names of the partners. For example, Amber Sheppard and Tubbs Stone could have a formal partnership company named Amber and Tubbs Partnership. If they did not formalize the name, the secretary of state may assign the partnership name as Sheppard Stone, their last names.
- LLC and corporation legal names are the names registered with the state. View other LLC business names to get inspired in your own naming process.
You can change your initial name by filing a doing business as (DBA) application to make a formal business name change. Review the FindLaw Checklist for Starting a Small Business to see other steps to keep in mind.
Fictitious Business Name, Trade Name, or DBA
A fictitious business name has a few aliases:
- Assumed name
- Trade name
- Doing business as
No matter what term you use, this business name differs from your personal name or the initial name registered with the state. A trade name is any name used in business that doesn't include the full legal name of all the business owners.
Not all states require the registration of fictitious business names or DBAs. But registering your fictitious name grants multiple protections:
- Legally recognizing that assumed name
- Opening a business bank account under that assumed name
- Legally enforcing contracts signed under the fictitious name
- Providing notice to third parties of all owners of a business
- Allowing you to file a lawsuit on behalf of your business
The type of business structure you pick helps protect your company from legal liability and allows the business to own a trademark.
Pick a Business Name You Can Trademark
A trademark is a word, phrase, or symbol that helps create your brand identity. It distinguishes the source of the trademark holder's goods from those of others. For example, companies like Apple and Amazon protect their company name with a trademark.
For protection, a trademark needs to be distinctive. Common words and generic terms cannot give a business entity a trademark. Review a full list of business names and trademark considerations before you pick your name.
Trademarks don't need registration to gain protection. Marks just need to be used. Although registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is not required, it's advisable because it greatly strengthens your claim to a trademark if a dispute arises. A registered trademark also increases your company's business valuation.
Hiring a Business Attorney
Using a lawyer when choosing the right name for your business isn't always needed. 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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