What is a DBA or Fictitious Name? Does My Business Need a DBA?

DBA vs Fictitious Name vs Trade Name - Explained

About a DBA or Fictitious Name
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What is a DBA or Fictitious Name? 

The terms DBA, trade name, or fictitious name all refer to a name by which a company is doing business and the name it presents itself as to the public.

The term "DBA" (sometimes written as "d/b/a") stands for "doing business as." A DBA, trade name, or fictitious name is a registration that is needed to let the public know who is operating a business. The public must be able to see who is doing business and how to get in contact with that person. 

The terms d/b/a, fictitious name, and trade name all mean the same thing: a name that a company is "doing business" as in the public eye. This name may be different from the legal name of the business as registered with a state. These terms are used interchangeably by different states.

Trade Name vs. Trademark

A trade name, as noted above, is another term for a name used by a company to do business. For example, Cartwright Enterprises LLC might use "Excelsior Events" as its trade name.

A trademark, on the other hand, is a name and logo used by a company to make it stand out from other businesses. The trademark might include the trade name. For example, Excelsior Events might be included in a trademark.

Trademarks must be registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to protect them from being used by others.

Trade names, on the other hand, are registered with a locality (as described below) to let the public know who owns a business.

DBA vs Domain Name

A domain name is just a name for a website. As Entrepreneur notes, your domain name doesn't have to match your DBA or your business name. In the example above, the domain name for "Excelsior Events" (dba) or Cartwright Enterprises might not be available.

Why Use a DBA? 

There's a big difference between an official business name and the name you want to use for the public. Having the public see the name "Matthews Industries LLC" isn't very exciting. and it doesn't tell anyone about the services or products. But "SuperCleanCars" is more exciting and it helps customers understand the service this business provides.

Having a DBA is an advantage for marketing, including on the internet. You may want to get a DBA under your public name of "Make-it Right" for advertising to the public and save the legal name for legal documents. 

Speaking of legal documents, it's a good idea to include your DBA on legal documents, in addition to the business name you have registered with your state. This makes sure your business is more completely identified, to avoid confusion. If you have more than one DBA, include them all.

When Does My Business Need a DBA? 

If you have a sole proprietorship and you are doing business under your own name, you don't need a DBA. If your company is doing business under a name that is not the same as your personal name, you need a DBA.

Here are some examples to make this clearer:

  • You have a sole proprietorship for Chad Martin, and your business name is Chad Martin Plumbing, you probably don't need a DBA because everyone can tell who is the owner of the business.
  • You have an LLC called Strickland Enterprises LLC and you run a restaurant called Zippy's Pizza. You will need to register a DBA so everyone knows that Strickland Enterprises LLC owns Zippy's Pizza.
  • You own a corporation called The Planted Ground Corporation that owns greenhouses and nurseries in several locations; each one has a different name. You will need to register the DBA of each of these entities, to show that The Planted Ground Corporation owns each one.

Do I Need a DBA if I Own an LLC or Corporation? 

Just to be clear, if you are doing business as a  limited liability company (LLC), partnership, or corporation, you have registered your business with the state where you are doing business. Your name is registered at the same time, so people can find you under this business registration.

For these types of businesses, you only need a DBA if you are operating under another name. 

For example, the name of your LLC might be Matthews Manufacturing LLC but you might be doing business as Make-it-Right. In this case, you would need to register the DBA to make it clear who owns and is responsible for Make-it-Right. 

If your business name includes the terms "LLC" or "Corporation" or some other designation, you can also use this name as your DBA. You can't use the terms "LLC" or "Corporation" for doing business unless you are officially registered with your state using these terms. 

How to Register a DBA

Registration of DBA's is regulated by each state, with different procedures in each. To register a DBA, you will need to go to the county registrar and ask to register a business name. In some states, the DBA registration process may involve publishing your DBA in a local newspaper. 

Registering a DBA vs Registering a Business Name

You may register a business name with your state if you want to reserve the name for legal purposes. This isn't the same as registering a DBA. A DBA is registered with a locality in a state. The business name registration is handled by your state business division, usually a part of the secretary of state's office.

Do I Need an Attorney to Register a DBA?

In most cases, you don't need an attorney. The registration process is usually simple and you can do it yourself. Call your city or county office and find out the procedure.