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.
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.
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|
|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.
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.
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.
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.