How and Why You Should Register Your Business Name

Why You Should Register Your Business Name With Your State

Incorporator or Organizer for Business Startup
••• Hero Images/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 protect it. 

Why your Business Name is So Important

Your business name will be on everything you put out to the public.

  • Business cards, stationery, and office forms will carry the business name.
  • All advertising and marketing materials will feature your business name.
  • The business name is on all business formation documents, such as Articles of Organization for an LLC or Articles of Incorporation for a corporation.
  • Business loans are given to a specific business, which is named in all loan documents.
  • Many companies use their business name as their domain name for the company website.
  • The business name is registered with the locality and state where the business is organized. If the business operates under another name, it must file a fictitious name ("doing business as")statement.
  • The business name is on all contracts and agreements made by the company.

What Business Name Registration Means

The specific meaning of business name registration is to submit your business name to your state to get it on their registry of legal business names.

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 so no one else can use it. 
  • 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. 

What Business Name Registration Is NOT

Registering a business name with a state isn't the same as registering a business with a state. Business registration means sending in an application with information about the business. For example, a corporation registers with a state by completing Articles of Incorporation.

If you are applying to have your business registered with your state, you don't need to file a separate business name registration application. As part of the incorporation process, most states will automatically register the name. Just to be sure you aren't duplicating another name, you must check your name against the state's business name registry.

Registering a business name isn't the same as filing a fictitious name statement (sometimes called a D/B/A). A DBA is filed with your locality to let people know who owns your business.It's required when the official business name is different from the owner's name. For example, a DBA is needed for a business owned by Sam Weeks is doing business as "Happy Hot Dogs."

Registering a business name is also not the same as trademarking that name. You don't have to have a trademark registered unless you want to be sure others aren't using your name. You register a trademark in the U.S. with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

What If I Don't Register My Business Name?

Here's hat can happen if you don't register your business name. Let's say you want to use the name Captain Mark's Seafood and there is already a business in your state named Captain Mack's Seafood.

  • The similar names can cause confusion with customers, vendors, and the public. For example, if there is a lawsuit against Captain Mack's, the public might think it's your business.
  • If Captain Mack has trademarked his business name, he could sue your business for trademark violation.

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 two government databases:

  • Your state has a registry of all businesses in the state, and
  • The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has a registry of all trademarked names in the U.S.

It's important to check both the state and trademark databases, 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. 

How to Register 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. 

How to 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 by filing organizational documents like Articles of Incorporation. In this case, 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. 

Back to Business Name Steps.