The Importance of Filing a Trade Name for Your Business

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You have probably heard the term "trade name," and you are probably wondering what a “fictitious name” is and why you need one for your business. You'll see several different ways to talk about your business name, and they can be confusing.

What is a Trade Name?

A trade name is a name a business uses to identify itself to the public. Other terms used in place of trade name are "fictitious name" and "DBA" or "D/B/A."

A trade name is usually registered with the county where the business is located, as a fictitious name or d/b/a (doing business as) name. For example, if a company is organized as an LLC with the name "Ask Enterprises LLC" and the company runs a chain of grocery stores called “Super S Stores,” the stores are run under a fictitious name.

DBA (sometimes written d/b/a) stands for “Doing Business As.” A DBA is the same as a trade name or fictitious name. People in your community need to know who is running the local businesses.

Unfortunately, some people start a company and then operate under a different (fictitious) name to avoid legal issues. So the DBA/Trade name designation protects consumers by providing information. When you file your DBA, it is usually printed in the local newspaper, so everyone can see who is starting and running that business.

Trade Name vs. Entity/Legal Name

An entity or legal business name is the one that's used to register the business with a state. A trade name can be different from the legal name the business has been registered as, for corporate status. For example, a business might be incorporated as "XYZ Holdings" and do business under the trade name "Alphabet Productions, Inc."

Trade Name vs. Trademark/Brand Name

A trademark is a specific U.S. government registration for a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one business. A service mark is the same thing for services rather than goods. A trademark is sometimes called a brand name, but a brand name is not registered with the U.S.Patent and Trademark Office. 

Sorting Out the Business Name Confusion
Entity Name/Legal Name The name you use to register your business with a state
Trade Name, D/B/A, Fictitious Name The name you do business as, registered with your locality  
Trademark  A protected word, phrase, symbol or design that identifies your business and distinguishes it from other businesses  
Brand Name Similar to a trademark but not protected 

How to File a Trade Name

When you have set up your business organization form, and you have determined that you are operating under a different name from your legal name, you must file a fictitious name/DBA.

Go to the County Recorder of the county where your business is located and ask for the DBA or “fictitious name” filing form. Different counties call this form by different titles, so be persistent if the clerk gives you a strange look. You may have to pay a small fee.

If you have registered your business with your state, you usually don't need to register your trade name/fictitious name with your county, because your state has a record of your business and who owns it.

Even if you register your trade name with your locality, you may still have to register for licenses and permits for your particular kind of business. For example, if you sell food, you'll need to get a health department permit.

If the DBA Applies to a Sole Proprietor

You will also need to apply for a trade name registration if your sole proprietor business name is different from your own name.

For example, if you are a sole proprietor named “Rhonda Smith” and you have a photography studio named “Smith Portraits” or “Rhonda Smith Photography Studio,” you don’t need to file a DBA, because your name is in the business name. But if Rhonda Smith were doing business as “Catalyst Photography,” she would need a DBA.

The best way to find out if you need a DBA is to go to the County Recorder’s office and ask them to help. You can also ask an attorney to help you with this filing.

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Article Sources

  1. Small Business Administration. "Choose Your Business Name." Accessed Sept. 6, 2020.

  2. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. "Trademark, Patent, or Copyright?" Accessed Sept. 6, 2020.