Whether it’s a clever moniker, a personal tribute, or simply picked out of hat, your business’ name will frame its identity. The significance of choosing a name can sometimes be a tricky undertaking. You may find it helpful to keep alternatives in mind during your selection process. If you’re having some trouble selecting a business name, here are some tips to consider.
Imagine how the potential name will:
* Look (on business cards, advertisements, with a logo)
* Sound (ease of pronunciation)
* Be remembered (connotations the name may incite)
* Distinguish you from competitors (avoid trademark infringements)
You may want to avoid:
* Embarrassing spellings, abbreviations, profanities, potentially offensive undertones
* Implied associations with organizations/people the business is not connected with
Once you’ve decided on the perfect business name, you’ll want to ensure that it’s secure and protected. Be aware laws may vary from state to state, so check with your state Secretary of State to comply with regional policies.
Availability of Proposed Names
Set aside some time to research your proposed names. Because a business can establish a trademark simply by operating under a given name, you must be diligent in checking both registered and unregistered trademarks. A quick scan on an Internet search engine can save you valuable time, energy, and money by ruling out existing businesses with similar names and/or services. The next step is to search various databases that pertain to your business structure.
Trademark law prevents businesses from operating under names that are likely to be mistaken for the name of an existing competitor. If you violate trademark law, you may be required to pay monetary reparations and change your business name. To avoid violating trademark law, do your research and select a name that is legally available.
To confirm name availability, have your county clerk’s office check the list of fictitious/assumed names – often unregistered trademarks – operating in your region, or state, if applicable. In the event that your proposed name is already in use, you should discard it from your list.
Multiple databases should be consulted to provide the most thorough search effort. The Thomas Register (available online) provides entrepreneurs with a free, unregistered trademark database. Federally registered trademarks can be found on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s database.
Corporations, Limited Liability Companies (LLC), or Limited Partnerships
For businesses organized in the manner of a corporation, LLC, or limited partnership, contact your state filing office for an additional name database search.
Considering Your Results
If you find a business operating under your proposed name, you may still be able to use it, provided your business and the existing business offer different goods/services or are located in different regions.
However, avoid naming your business after a prominent existing trademark or any trademarks that are indistinguishable to your proposed name that provide the same goods/services, as it may violate trademark law. Keep in mind that federally registered trademarks are protected across the United States.
Once you’ve cleared your proposed business name, you must register it. There are also optional registrations available to business owners to ensure legal name protection.
If your business name is not your own personal name, it’s referred to as an assumed, or fictitious, name. Registrations of this kind may also be known as a DBA, or “Doing, Business As.” Depending on where you live, this registration can be obtained from a state agency or a city or county clerk’s office. Visit the Business Name Registration (Doing Business As) page for more information.
For corporations, LLCs, or limited partnerships, often business names are registered when the articles of incorporation/organization or statements of limited partnerships are returned to your state filing office. If operating under a fictitious/assumed/DBA name, fictitious name statements may be required by the state and county where the business is located.
Registering for a trademark is not required, but it often provides valuable protection of your business name. Just as you could not infringe on a trade name in your selection process, you would be offered the same protection against potential competitors.
If your business will operate in more than one state, you may want to apply for a federal trademark.
See your state Secretary of State office (for state) and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (for federal) trademark registration.