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How to Register a Business Name

Signing paperwork

Registering your business name is an essential step in starting a new enterprise. Registration helps your company build brand recognition by ensuring that other businesses in your state do not operate under the same name. In addition, if you plan on running your business as an independent entity, most states require you to establish a unique business name as part of the registration process.

What Businesses Should Register Their Names?

Whether or not a business has to register its name depends on how the business is structured. Businesses operating using one of the following structures are required to register their names when the company is formed:

Businesses organized using the following structures are often not required to register their names because there is usually no state registration requirement:

Some states permit businesses to register online, but others require hard copies of the registration and other documents to be mailed to the secretary of state's office. Check with the website of your secretary of state for registration options.

Federal Business Registration

In most cases, the only federal documents that your business needs to file to become a legal entity are those required to receive a federal tax ID. Your business is eligible for an employer identification number (EIN) if its operations are based in the United States or a U.S. territory. An EIN is a unique identifier that helps your company register as a business entity, open a business bank account, and get a loan.

However, you probably want to look into getting a federal trademark for your business name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A registered trademark gives you the right to use your business name anywhere in the United States and protect it in federal court.​

Make Sure Your Name is Available and Unique

Business owners should conduct a preliminary search before forming the business to ensure that the business name is available. In most cases, it is recommended that business owners perform three different types of searches:

  • State business entity name search: Ensure your business's name is not already being used in your state by performing a business entity name search on your secretary of state's website. 
  • Internet domain name search: Today, a lot of business is being done online, so you want to be sure your business has a domain name that is easily inferred from your company's name. That means you need to check to see if your preferred domain name is available before registering your business name. You can usually determine a domain's availability using a search engine.​
  • Federal trademark search: ​The USPTO's website allows you to perform a search of the names that have been trademarked.

Fictitious Business Names

fictitious business name is different from the owner's name or the registered name of the business. Sometimes businesses operating under fictitious names are said to be "doing business as" or operating as a DBA. Registering as a DBA is usually less expensive than forming an entirely new legal entity.

Your business will usually need to file a fictitious name statement or an assumed name certificate with the appropriate state or local government offices to form a DBA. 

There is, however, one major disadvantage of using a fictitious name or DBA. It is not a legal entity, so it does not offer the same liability protection as business structures that provide owners with limited liability. DBAs are also not protected by federal trademark law.

Need Legal Help?

Getting a business name registered can be challenging. FindLaw can help. Find a local lawyer who can assist you.

Additional Resources:

Starting a Business Resources

Tips for a Successful Small Business

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Contact a qualified business attorney to help you navigate the process of starting a business.

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