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.

A trade name is the name a business uses to identify itself. 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."

A trade name may be registered with the county where the business is located, as a "fictitious name" or d/b/a (doing business as) name. A trade name may or may not be trademarked.

When a company is legally registered with one name and that company is advertising or trading or is commonly known by another name, the common name is a “fictitious 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.

A DBA (or d/b/a) Designation

DBA (sometimes written d/b/a) stands for “Doing Business As.” A DBA is the same as a 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 so the owners could avoid legal problems. They figured if no one could find them, they wouldn’t be able to sue them.

So the DBA designation was put in place as a consumer protection, to prevent people from hiding their ownership from the public. When you file your DBA, it is usually printed in the local newspaper, so everyone can see who is starting and running that business.

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 the Business and Company Name Are the Same

Then you don’t need a DBA/fictitious name statement filed. For example, if you have registered your LLC as “Super S Stores” and that’s the name on all your stores, you don’t need a DBA.

If the DBA Applies to a Sole Proprietor

It applies 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. 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.