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Start Your Business Startup Basics

How to Register a Business Name

How to Register a Business Name
Credit: rangizzz/Shutterstock

The first step to creating your small business is choosing the right name. The name should represent your industry, field or expertise while being catchy, memorable, and relevant to your customers or clientele. However, there are a few simple steps to consider before registering an official name for your future business.

Although you might already be infatuated with the name of your small business, you must ensure someone else hasn't already claimed it. This helps you verify your company's name is unique. Otherwise, it could violate trademark law by being too similar to the name of an existing business, in your state or any other, and whose operations are in close relation to your product or service.

Conducting a thorough due diligence check before registering the business entity or buying the domain name will help you avoid future costs in marketing, rebranding and even a possible lawsuit.

Before conducting even the simplest of searches, brainstorm a short list (preferably of five to ten) of possible business names. If you're stuck, use different words and phrases to say your business name. Get creative! Play around with adjectives, nouns, and adverbs. Not only will this list help you search for pre-existing business names, it will also come in handy if someone else has already claimed your business name. To be sure that you are in no danger of encroaching on a business name or trademark, also add variations in spelling or wording of your potential business names.

Now it's time to conduct a basis online search with a major search engine, because similarities to your chosen moniker will likely show up here. You should investigate further to see if that business offers a product or service comparable to yours. If there are no readily apparent matches, it does not necessarily mean you are in the clear.

Continue your investigation by entering your business name in more specific and targeted databases. For instance, consider searching in the following business databases, which offer ways to locate a matching or similar business name before you commit to it:  

When you are nearly certain you can use your business name, go to the Small Business Administration's website and find the contact information for each state's secretary of state's online business registry database. Search your selection as well as variations in each one. If there are no matches, then move to checking with your county clerk's list of Doing Business As (DBA) names.

Don't panic if your preferred name is already taken. You may still be able to use it if you are offering a clearly different product or service or are in different states. You can contact your state's secretary of state's corporations division. They can work with you to determine that you meet the legal requirements to still use the name.

Once you have a confirmed business name, register it right away, even if you are not ready to conduct business operations. The name may not be available six weeks or six months from now, and the small cost of ensuring it is yours to use early in your preparation will be worth it.

You can register your name through your state government. Procedures will vary depending on your chosen type of legal entity (sole proprietor, LLC, corporation, etc.). Most states require you to at least register as a DBA if you are conducting business under any name other than your given legal name.

Your business name will be the cornerstone of your marketing efforts. By protecting it from the beginning, you ensure it will stand strong against any branding or legal challenges along the way.

Additional reporting by Marci Martin.

Danielle Corcione

Danielle Corcione is a freelance writer. Her work has recently appeared on Vice, Salon, Upworthy and more. Follow her on Twitter at @decorcione.