Why a Business Name is so Important
The first step any business owner makes in the checklist of "to do" items when starting a business is the selection of a business name. The right business name is important because all other business legal decisions are based on the business name. For example:
- Business cards, stationery, and office forms will carry the business name.
- All advertising and marketing materials will feature your business name.
- 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 web site.
- 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.
Considerations in Selecting a Business Name
Before you select a name for your business, be sure it fits the business now and in the future, and that it is meaningful and not confusing. Make sure the image your name brings to the minds of those who hear it is what you want. Once you select a business name, and put it on company letterhead.
Read more about selecting a business name.
Check the Availability of Your Business Name
Before you start putting your business name on all those documents and applications, be sure you check the availability of the name you have selected. Start by searching the Internet for the name. Search for your name in your state's business division data base, and check with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to see if anyone has trademarked your name. If you find that your name is already taken, particularly if someone else has a domain name with your name in it, you may need to consider another name to avoid confusion and legal issues (for trademark violation, for example).
Read more about researching the availability of your business name.
Do You Need to Register your Business Name?
After you search for your business name and have selected a name you want to use, you may register your business name in your state. You do not need to submit a separate business name registration in your state if you are going to form a state business entity (LLC, partnership, or corporation). The business formation includes a name search and registration by the state. If you are starting a sole proprietorship or not forming a state entity right away, it's a good idea to register your business name to reserve the name and keep it from being used by someone else.
Read more about how to register a business name in a state.
Should You Trademark Your Business Name?
Your business name is an intangible asset of your business. Even though it can't be seen or touched, like a desk or piece of equipment, your business name has value. It can be sold, and can be part of the purchase price of your business. If you have a unique business name, or if you intend to use your business name online or across the U.S., you may want to go through the trademark process. A trademark doesn't prevent someone from trying to use your business name, but it gives you a huge advantage in a lawsuit and it may make someone back down if they see you have already trademarked the name.
Read more about How to file a trademark application
How to Change Your Business Name
If you decide to change your business name, it can be done. Of course, there are many documents that will need to be changed. The most important documents are those relating to your business formation with your state and tax documents filed with the IRS. Notify your state secretary or state and the IRS and local entities about your business name change.
Read more about Changing Your Business Name
Do I Need an Attorney to Register My Business Name?
You don't need an attorney to find a business name and search for that name as described above. If you want to register your business name in your state, and the registration is not part of the process of forming a state entity like an LLC or a corporation, you can register your business name without help from an attorney. You may find, though, that an attorney is helpful in doing deeper research and may find an existing name you have missed.
Disclaimer: The information in this article and on the GuideSite is general in nature and is not intended to be tax or legal advice. Every business situation is different and you should always check with an attorney before making any major business decisions.