How To Legally Name A New Business

Trademark Business Name

Picking a business name can be hard work: You’re creating your own brand. And with so many names out there already, the task of finding a unique name can require some creative thinking. In addition, you’ll need to meet local legal requirements and find out what domain names are available. Where to start?

State and Local Law

To find out legal requirements for registering a business name in your area, you’ll need to check with your city, state and county. Start your research at your secretary of state’s office to find out whether another company has already registered your name. If it’s taken, strike it off your list, as a company has a legal right to prevent another business from using its name. (To find your secretary of state online, do a search using your state’s name as a keyword.)

And to avoid being confused with other local businesses, you’ll need to look at county records for DBAs (Doing Business As) and scan your local business pages. This may require a call or visit to the county clerk, though some county governments are online.

Once you’ve picked a name and are sure it isn’t taken, register it. If you’re going to incorporate, reserve the name with the secretary of state; no other registration is required. If not, your nonincorporated DBA name will have to be published in an advertisement in one or two local papers. (Be sure to save the advertisement as proof of registration.)

Information-Age Requirements

Before the Internet, the conventional wisdom was, “Don’t waste time on national name searches unless you are starting a national business.” Today’s business owner can’t afford to follow that advice, as the Internet can take your company name around the world.

To research a name you want to use online, check out the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s at USPTO.gov. And to find out whether an domain name is available, do a search at DomainTools.com.

Remember, even after all this research and running around, you may decide to change your business name at some point. But starting right can save you bundles of time and money later.