Have a Great Business Name? How to Register It

Registering a Business Name
••• Register Your Business Name. ultura RM/Craig Easton/Getty Images

You have found a great business name. Congratulations! Finding a business name is an important first step toward starting your own business. Now it's time to take the next step, to be sure you can use your business name, and to get it registered. 

Why You Should Register Your Business Name

I recently worked with a new corporation that wanted to start in Illinois, and we ran into an interesting problem with the business name. We filed the Articles of Incorporation online and received approval.  Then we got an attorney involved to draw up the corporation's by-laws and some other documents. The attorney did some checking and found two corporations with almost exactly the same name in the state. If we had specifically registered the business name with the state when we started, we would have found out about the other name sooner and saved ourselves some time and confusion.


Registration of your business name is a good idea in two specific cases: 

  • If you are thinking about starting a business but you are not yet sure what legal form you want, and you have a business name, register it. You can always change your mind later, but the registration process will save your name. 
  • If you're forming a sole proprietorship, you should definitely register your business name with the state because sole proprietorships aren't registered in any other way. 

How to Make Sure You Can Use Your New Business Name

Before you start using that name, you'll need to be sure no one else is using it by doing research on your business name. That means checking with both your state business data base and the federal trademark data base. It's important to check both the state and trademark data bases, because your business will have an online presence. 

The term "registering a business name" may be confusing. There are really two different processes involved, and you will have to do both, in most cases: (1) registration with your state and (2) registration with your locality.

Registration of your business name takes place in your state, through your state's business division (usually part of the Secretary of State). Registration is not the same as trademarking your business name, which is done through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 

Registering Your Business Name with Your State 

Registering your business name with your state. You can register your business name with your state, which is basically a process of reserving it so no one else can use it in your state. If you are forming an LLC, partnership, or corporation, the name registration is part of that process; you don't have to do a separate name registration. 

Register a Business Name for a Sole Proprietorship 

If you are operating your business as a sole proprietorship, you don't have to register your business with your state, so you should register your business name with your state. Check the website of your state's secretary of state for more details on how to complete the business name registration.

Register a Business Name for a Limited Liability Company, Partnership, or Corporation

If you are are operating as a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation, you don't need to register the business name, because the process of setting up the LLC or corporation includes the business name registration. No separate business name registration is required.

Registering Your Business Name with Your Locality

In addition to registering your business name with your state, you may need to register your business with the city or county where your business is operating. This name registration is called a "doing business as" or business license. The purpose is to let people know who owns your business. 

If your business name is different from the name you are using for advertising and public purposes (your business trade name), you will need to file a "fictitious name" statement, sometimes called a "d/b/a" or "doing business as" statement. This statement is filed in the county where your business is operating. The process of filing a d/b/a or fictitious name statement is one of the first things you should do if you are going to use a trade name that is different from the name you have registered.

Why You Might Want to Trademark Your Business Name

You may also decide that your name is so great that you want to make absolutely sure no one else takes it. The way to do this is to trademark your business name. It's best to create your name in graphic form as a logo, in order to make the trademark more secure.