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How To File a DBA in California in 3 Steps

A Californian business entity operates under a DBA when it uses a legal name other than its own to conduct operations. DBAs, which are short for "doing business as," are sometimes called "trade names" or "fictitious names." Small businesses must register with the California Secretary of State before conducting operations using a DBA.

California law refers to a DBA as a fictitious business name (FBN). Sole proprietors, partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), and corporations must file an FBN statement to operate and sign legal documents under a name other than their own. This FindLaw article explains how to file an FBN statement in California.

Register your DBA with confidence through our trusted partner LegalZoom.

Do You Need a DBA?

California businesses operate under DBAs for many reasons. One of the most common is that California requires sole proprietors to file a DBA if they are operating under their own name. Your business structure often dictates your decision to file a DBA or create a new company.

Some other common situations include:

  • You want to rebrand your company without changing the name of your small business
  • You need an employer identification number (EIN)
  • You want to offer a new product or enter a new market with your limited liability company (LLC) or corporation but do not want to change your articles of incorporation or form a new company
  • You need to open a business bank account for your sole proprietorship
  • You would like your business to operate under a website domain name that is different from the company name
  • You want to operate under a name that is more memorable or search-engine-friendly than what the name was at startup

If you need to register a California DBA for any reason, you can follow the steps listed below to ensure that your new business name will be legally valid and recognized by the state.

Remember that a DBA filing does not protect your personal assets. Only a legal entity, such as a general partnership or company, can do that.

Step 1: Conduct a Business Name Search

The first step in registering a DBA in California is choosing a name and making sure it's available. The name should be catchy and easy to remember. While the name you choose can be similar to others, it's a good idea to make it as unique and distinctive as possible.

When you check to see if a name is already in use in California, you must check both the Secretary of State's (SOS) website and your county's website. Then, do an online trademark search.

California Secretary of State's Website

The Secretary of State's website allows you to search business records to see the names used to register LLCs and corporations with the state.

Your County and County Where You Want to Operate

County clerk's offices handle DBA (known as FBN) filings in California. You will need to check your county's website, and sometimes your city's website, to determine whether the name is available. Check the county of your principal place of business.

United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

Next, you must make sure your assumed name is not subject to either a federal or state trademark. The name may have been trademarked even if it hasn't been used to register a business in the state or county. Using a trademarked name leaves you open to infringement lawsuits. It could result in a rebrand and damages paid to the owner.

You can search the USPTO for trademarks here.

Online Search

It's a good idea for entrepreneurs to see if the name of their choice is available as a web domain name. You may not need a domain name that's an exact match to your DBA name, but the domain name should be easily inferred from the DBA.

If your business does not have an easy-to-remember domain name derived from your company's name, people may have trouble finding your web page.

Step 2: File Your DBA Name With Your County Clerk

Once you have determined that your chosen name won't be confused with existing businesses, it is time to register with your county clerk. By law, the DBA must be filed within 40 days of the business starting its operations. 

In California, DBAs are regulated at the state level. While each county has its own rules and forms, the process is similar for most counties.

When filing with a county, you must use the proper DBA form, often referred to as a "fictitious business name form." You will usually have the option of filing in person, by mail, or using a service.

The form often asks for:

  • Fictitious name
  • Business owner contact information
  • Type of business
  • Proof that the underlying business, if incorporated, is in good standing

A DBA filing fee is typically $30, plus an additional fee for each name registered. Your registration will expire after five years. At that time, you must renew your FBN before the expiration date. If you want to change your DBA name or withdraw it, you can do that with the same county clerk.

Out-of-state businesses that wish to file a California DBA must file in Sacramento County.

Step 3: Publish Your Fictitious Business Name Statement

You must publish your fictitious name statement within 30 days of registration in California in a local newspaper. You must publish in the county where you registered. It must run at least once a week for four consecutive weeks. Newspapers are often found on the county clerk's website. Make sure you file an affidavit of publication within 30 days of newspaper publication in the county where you filed.

Get Legal Help for Your California DBA

When you've decided to pursue DBA registration, consider using a trusted, simple-to-use online business formation tool that will walk you through the process. 

If you need a lawyer's help getting a DBA for your California LLC or other business entity, reach out to a business lawyer via FindLaw.com's directory. These lawyers can help you navigate the DBA registration process or submit the paperwork for your LLC.

Disclaimer: The information presented here does not constitute legal advice or representation. It is general and educational in nature, may not reflect all recent legal developments, and may not apply to your unique facts and circumstances. Consider consulting with a qualified business attorney if you have legal questions.

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