Finding a business name is, well, serious business. You want something that will grow as your company does. While you can rebrand with a new name down the line, you’ll save time, money, and confusion for clients by finding a business name to stick with for as long as possible.
But you can’t just slap a sign on a website or building and call it a day. For legal and tax purposes, you typically have to register your business name. Unless you are a sole proprietor operating under your own name, you’ll need to work with local, state, and federal agencies to register your business name.
What Is a Business Name?
A business name is what you decide to brand your company. It will be recognizable by clients, but it's also important for tax purposes — such as separating your company and its assets from your personal assets.
In some instances, you might operate under your own name. For example, a freelance writer that is a sole proprietor might just go by their full name for their business. But if you decide to give your business a unique name like Best Writers, you’ll need to register the business name — even as a sole proprietor.
Why Do I Need To Register My Business Name?
One important reason to register your business name is to protect it. For example, you can trademark a name to prevent others from using it. Depending on the business type, you also may legally be required to register your business. Here's a look at the various ways you can register your business name.
DBA — or trade, fictitious, or assumed name — stands for "Doing Business As" and refers to a person with a business that does not include their name. So regardless of whether you’re a corporation or a sole proprietor, if your business name is something other than your own name, you might legally need to register a DBA. This process may vary by state or even county or city.
A DBA doesn’t offer legal protections, so it won’t operate like a trademark, but it can help you in the process of setting up a business bank account and filing business taxes.
An entity offers protection at the state level. This option does offer legal protections, but these can depend on your state laws.
"Most states don’t allow you to register a name that’s already been registered by someone else, and some states require your entity name to reflect the kind of business it represents."
Trademarks offer federal protections for your business name, and you can also acquire protections for your products and services. This level of protection prevents others from operating businesses with the same name.
Even if you decide not to trademark your business name, you should check your desired business name — along with any product names — against the official trademark database to avoid any costly trademark infringement lawsuits for using an already trademarked name.
Steps to Register a Business Name
The process of registering a business name can vary based on your location. Whether you need to register or not, follow these steps to find out how to register your business name wherever your business is located.
1. Determine your business structure.
Before you determine whether you need to register or not and how to do so, you’ll need to determine your business structure. Some structures will require various registrations, while others — particularly sole proprietorships — might not require you to register the business or business name.
Sole Proprietor: A sole proprietor is a single person operating an unincorporated business. For example, a freelance designer or writer is often a sole proprietor.
LLC: An LLC, or limited liability company, may be a single person or a company with multiple owners. This registration can offer some legal protection for personal assets and tax benefits. LLC requirements and regulations will vary by state.
S-Corp: An S-corporation is a federally recognized business structure for businesses that pass income, losses, deductions, and credits through to shareholders.
Partnerships: A partnership involves two or more people operating a business.
Corporations: A corporation, or C-corporation, is a business structure that taxes the business separately from the owners.
2. Register federally.
One of the first actions to take, no matter your business structure, is to file for an employer identification number (EIN), which is similar to a social security number but for a business’ tax purposes. You might also choose to trademark your business name, which is done at the federal level.
3. Register in your state.
You can register for a DBA at the state level. This process varies by state, so check your state’s requirements. Even if you don’t need a DBA, you may be required to register your business, regardless of the structure, with the state.
4. Register Locally
You might need to also register a DBA with your city or county. Some local governments may also require you to obtain permits or licenses to operate the business locally.
How To Register a Business Name For Free
Unfortunately, you’ll always incur some fees for registering a business name, even if you just file for a DBA. For example, you can register a fictitious business name yourself in California which might cost a fee depending on the county, and the state requires you to announce the registration in a newspaper — which will cost a fee that varies by publication and county.
If you are planning to start a business as a sole proprietor, you might opt for a business name that includes your name. For example, you might not need to register Jane Doe Design as a DBA, but Jane’s Designs would require a DBA. In this case, you won’t pay fees to file a DBA or create an LLC, but you will miss out on some benefits, like certain legal protections.
How to Register a Business Name By State
The process to register a business name depends on your location. Each state has different rules and regulations for starting a company and registering a business name. Here are the steps for some of the most populated states in the U.S., and you can check out the U.S. Small Business Administration for finding more assistance with tracking down requirements for your state.
How to Register a Business Name in California
To register a business name in California, you’ll first need to determine the business structure. If you are an LLC or corporation, you’ll have specific requirements for choosing a name. For example, a corporation must include "corporation," "company," "incorporated" or "limited" in the name.
Search the state’s business names: Use this tool to ensure your business name is not already taken.
File a DBA: If you plan to have a business name that is not your own name, you’ll need to file a DBA. This involves filling out the DBA form from the county clerk’s office.
Publish a statement: Within 30 days of filing the DBA, you’ll need to publish a notice in a local newspaper. The notice has to appear once a week for four consecutive weeks.
File an affidavit of publication: Within 30 days of the final published notice, you’ll need to file an affidavit of publication with a city or county office.
Keep in mind there may also be additional paperwork, such as Articles of Organization for LLCs or Articles of Incorporation for corporations, depending on your business structure. Generally, sole proprietorships will not require additional paperwork as the business name is the same as the owner.
How to Register a Business Name in Texas
Like most other locations, you’ll need to determine your business structure before registering a business name in Texas. This will also mean submitting required paperwork depending on the business structure.
Search the state’s business names: Use this tool to check that your name isn’t taken, which will lead to your registration being rejected.
File Assumed Name Registration: Next, you’ll check with the county clerk to file an Assumed Name Registration for DBAs. This form will need to be notarized. You will also need to bring this form with payment information to pay the filing fee.
How to Register a Business Name in New York
To register a business name in New York, you’ll first determine the business structure and fill out accompanying paperwork.
File business certificates: Sole proprietors and partnerships will need to file business certificates for every county in which they conduct business.
Fill out a DBA form: Fill out this DBA form and return it in person or by mail to the New York Department of State (New York State Department of State, Division of Corporations, One Commerce Plaza, 99 Washington Avenue Albany, NY 12231) along with this payment form.
How to Register a Business Name in Florida
Before you register a business name in Florida, start by determining your business structure and filing the appropriate paperwork.
Search the state’s business names: Use Florida’s Fictitious Names database to ensure your business name is not taken.
Publish intent to register: Before you file for a DBA, you have to publish a "legal notice of intent to file a fictitious name" one time in a newspaper local to the county in which the business operates. Be sure to follow the publication regulations here.
File the DBA: After — and only after — you’ve published the "legal notice of intent to file a fictitious name," you can file the DBA either online or fill out this form and mail it to the address listed at the bottom of the form along with a check, also detailed at the bottom of the form.
Register a Business Name to Start Your Company
Your business name is how customers connect with you, but in many cases, it’s not just a creative perk to creating a company. In many cities, counties, and states, you are required to register your business name, especially if you are operating with a trade or fictitious name.
When you’re ready to start a business, make sure you research your state’s business name database to avoid taking other registered business names — and closely follow your local guidelines to registering a business name to avoid any penalties. Once your business name is registered with local, state, and federal agencies as required, you’ll be ready to start the next steps of creating a business.
Originally published Oct 19, 2021 7:00:00 AM, updated April 25 2022