How to Check If Your Business Name is Available

Learn how to conduct a business name search in your state.

By , Journalist

You have come up with a great name for your limited liability company (LLC). It conveys what your business does, it's easy to spell, and it gives you room to grow. But don't order those business cards just yet. You still have to conduct a search to be sure the name is available for use in the state where you plan to set up your business.

In most states you register your business name along with your LLC registration filing. Your application might be rejected if the name doesn't conform to state requirements, so it's important to conduct a name search and familiarize yourself with any other requirements before you file your registration application.

Your Business Name Should Be Unique

Each state sets its own rules, but in most cases, you cannot register a business name that is already in use.

You also will not be able to use a name that is too similar to one being used by another company. While the state makes the final decision to approve your business name, you should avoid small modifications of existing names. If a store called Elegant Fashion is already operating in your state, for example, you will probably not be able to call your business Elegant Fashions. From a practical standpoint, you also don't want a name that is too similar to another company's because it might confuse customers and keep them from finding you.

How to Search for a Business Name

Nearly all state websites offer an online search tool—usually located on the secretary of state's website—that you can use to find out if another business is already using the business name you've chosen.

The table below lists the agency that maintains a database of company names for each state and a link to the search tool for that database. The web page will provide a field for entering the name you have selected and tell you whether the name is already in use.

Alabama Alabama Secretary of State
Alaska State of Alaska Dept. of Commerce, Community and Economic Development
Arizona Arizona Corporation Commission
Arkansas Arkansas Secretary of State
California California Secretary of State
Colorado Colorado Secretary of State
Connecticut Connecticut Office of the Secretary of the State
Delaware State of Delaware Department of State Division of Corporations
Florida Dept. of State Division of Corporations
Georgia Georgia Corporations Division
Hawaii Business Registration Division, Dept. of Commerce & Consumer Affairs
Idaho Idaho Secretary of State's Office
Illinois Office of the Illinois Secretary of State
Indiana InBiz
Iowa Iowa Secretary of State
Kansas Office of the Secretary of the State
Kentucky Kentucky Secretary of State
Louisiana Louisiana Secretary of State
Maine Maine Dept. of the Secretary of State Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions
Maryland Maryland Department of Assessments & Taxation; Maryland Business Express
Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Michigan Michigan Dept. of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA)
Minnesota Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State
Mississippi Mississippi Secretary of State
Missouri Missouri Secretary of State
Montana Montana Secretary of State
Nebraska Nebraska secretary of State
Nevada Silver Flume Nevada's Business Portal
New Hampshire New Hampshire Department of State
New Jersey NJ Division of Revenue and Enterprise Services
New Mexico New Mexico Secty of State Corporations and Business Services
New York New York Department of State
North Carolina North Carolina Secretary of State
North Dakota North Dakota Secretary of State
Ohio Ohio Secretary of State
Oklahoma Oklahoma Secretary of State
Oregon Oregon Secretary of State
Pennsylvania Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of State
Rhode Island Rhode Island Department of State
South Carolina South Carolina Secretary of State
South Dakota South Dakota Secretary of State
Tennessee Tennessee Secretary of State
Texas Texas Secretary of State
Utah Utah Dept. of Commerce Div. of Corporations and Commercial Code
Vermont Vermont Secretary of State
Virginia State Corporation Commission of the Commonwealth of Virginia
Washington Office of the Secretary o State, Washington Corporations and Charities Filing System
West Virginia West Virginia Secretary of State One Stop Business Portal
Wisconsin Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions
Wyoming Wyoming Secretary of State

Even if your search doesn't turn up another business with the same name, it's still wise to wait until your registration has been approved by the state before spending any money on marketing materials. Sometimes these databases are not up to date, and only a final determination by the state agency will tell you whether the name is available for use.

Registering in More Than One State

You should research the availability of your desired name in each state where you plan to conduct a significant amount of business, such as opening a physical location or employing workers in that state. Companies that conduct interstate commerce are not required to register in each state where they have customers. But if, for example, you plan to warehouse your goods in another state, you'll be required to register in that state too.

If you are just starting out with a single location, it's likely you will only have to register your business name in your home state. Obtaining a trademark for your name through the United States Patent and Trademark Office can help you protect your name though if you move into other states.

More LLC Name Requirements

Most states have regulations about names that might be misleading. If you operate a wealth management services business, for instance, a business name like Wealth Management Trust might be rejected because it implies that your business is a bank. The same is true for names that sound too similar to government agencies.

Many states also require you to include the type of business entity under which you will operate your business. If you are registering as an LLC you might be required to include "LLC" in your name. There also may be rules about abbreviations and punctuation or using words such as "corporation" that describe a type of business entity if your business isn't structured that way.

Reserving an LLC Name

Some states give you the option of reserving a name to prevent another company from registering it while you are completing your paperwork. The small fee sometimes charged for reserving a name may well be worth paying in order to be certain the name will be available when you are ready to file your documents. These reservations are usually only available for a specified time period although some states allow renewals.

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