How to Name an LLC
Starting a new business is exciting and one of the best feelings is officially registering your business and opening your doors.
But before opening your doors there are a few crucial steps that need to be taken during the business formation process and one of them is coming up with a unique business name.
So what can be so complicated about choosing a name for your limited liability company (LLC)?
While yes, your business name needs to be memorable to your customers and you want it to have some sort of meaning for you, you also want to keep in mind that this name will also appear on all of the formal documents of your business.
This business name will be used on everything from your business bank account to signed contracts to representing yourself in legal cases, should they arise.
Furthermore, each State is going to have its own specific LLC naming requires that you will want to know before officially deciding on your business name.
The last thing you want to do is select a name that could get you in trouble with the State or with another company if that name is already in use.
Keep on reading to learn the nuances of selecting a name for your LLC and how to protect the perfect name once you’ve found it.
Let’s get started!
LLC Naming Requirements
To legally establish your LLC you need to file your Articles of Organization with the Secretary of State in which your business will operate.
If you do not comply with your States LLC naming requirements, your Articles of Organization will be rejected and therefore your business won’t actually be registered.
To avoid this from happening, you will want to make sure you know the naming requirements before submitting your LLC name for approval.
As mentioned above, each state is going to have their own specific rules when it comes to naming your LLC, but for the most part, they follow these general guidelines:
LLC Designation in the Business Name
Most states require that the registered LLC name includes the “LLC” designation in the name of the company.
What this means is that your business name must end with some variation of “limited liability company” so that it is clear that your business is registered as an LLC.
Here are some LLC naming examples that are allowed:
- XYZ Limited Liability Company
- XYZ Limited Liability Co.
- XYZ Limited
- XYZ L.L.C.
- XYZ LLC
- XYZ Ltd.
No Misleading Affiliations or Naming Conventions
LLC names containing words like “bank”, “trust”, “insurance”, “corporation”, “inc”, “incorporated”, or any other word that could mislead someone to think the business is something that it is not is prohibited.
For example, if you own a flower shop, you cannot select any words in the LLC name that suggest it is anything other than a flower shop or LLC.
The name should not be misleading in any way.
Furthermore, the name cannot imply a false government affiliation such as “agency”, “bureau”, “municipality”, “board”, etc.
Unique LLC Name in your State
So now that you know all of the naming conventions that are prohibited, you may have narrowed down a name or a few names that you like.
But, you aren’t quite ready to register that name until you make sure the name is unique in several ways.
The LLC name that you have chosen for your business cannot be the same as, or too similar, to the name of an existing LLC that is already registered with the Secretary of State.
If you file your Articles of Organization before checking what similar names are already registered, you risk your application being rejected and having to file all over again.
If it slips through the cracks and your name is approved, you risk receiving a cease and desist letter from another business that isn’t too happy with the fact that you copied their LLC name.
Name Availability Check
To make sure you don’t use an name that is already in-use by another LLC, you will want to do a name availability search.
There are a few different ways that you can do a name availability check:
- Hire an attorney to do this for you. They can check the name’s availability and let you know if they see any red flags with closely similar names. Just keep in mind that hiring an attorney can be very costly.
- Do a name availability check on your own at your states Secretary of State website. Just keep in mind that this search will only give you names of LLCs registered in that same state. It does not provide registered LLC names for businesses outside of the state.
- Have the Secretary of State office perform a name availability search for you. They usually charge a fee to perform this search. You will need to fill out an official name search request form either online or in person, depending on your states requirements.
- Use an online name availability search website. You can find them by simply doing a google search.
- Perform an online search of the business name that you are hoping to use and see what pops up. This is a great method to give you a feel of the name and what is already out there, but one of the other above mentioned methods should also be done to search for officially registered LLC names.
Similar LLC Names in other States
Some businesses only search their local state for similar LLC names, but we always recommend doing a nationwide LLC name search before registering your business.
As mentioned above, the last thing you want is to establish your business, build some clientele and brand reputation, and then receive a cease and desist letter from an LLC in another state demanding you stop using their name.
Changing your LLC name once you’ve already built some brand power can have detrimental effects to your business and can be avoided by simply doing a more broad LLC name availability search.
Obviously you don’t want to use names that are similar to well-known businesses like Tesla, Amazon, or McDonalds.
In fact id you know that McDonalds is known for suing companies that even just use the prefix “Mc”?
These companies have deep pockets and will surely come after you if you use their name or a similar name to theirs.
Furthermore, you should not use a similar name to another company that provides similar goods and services.
This could lead to a painful lawsuit where they come after you for “unfair competition.”
Even if you only plan on doing business locally, you should seriously consider doing a more broad name search, just to cover all of your bases.
Reserve Your LLC Name
If you’ve done all of the above and have the perfect name for your LLC but need some time to officially register your business, you can do a name reservation request to make sure no one takes your perfect name.
Depending on the state you are in, the Secretary of State will reserve the name for anywhere from 60 to 120 days and it is usually affordable – as little as $10 – $25 per name reservation.
Doing this will give you name exclusivity until you can get all of your ducks in a row and officially file your business registration.
Trademarking your LLC Name
Trademarks are different than business names.
A trademark protects your business name from being used by others.
A registered trademark will give your business exclusive rights to use your business name and it allows you to enforce your trademark in a court of law should someone else be trying to use the same name.
Many large corporations will trademark their business name as well as any similar variations of their business name.
So simply choosing a name for your LLC and doing a name search may not be enough.
If you choose a name that’s the same or similar to a registered trademark for another business, whether it’s a fellow LLC or another type of company, you might get sued for trademark infringement when you try to market your products or services.
So to add to your list of things to do when selecting the perfect business name: do a trademark search.
Once you are in the clear, it is recommended that you trademark your own business name to prevent anyone from using it in the future.
Doing Business As (DBA) or Fictitious Names
A DBA (Doing Business As) name is a , trade name, or an assumed name, that the legal owners of a business register with the state.
The purpose of a DBA is to let the public know that a business entity is doing business under a different name, other than their legal name.
There are no limits to the number of DBAs a business can use, as long as the DBA name is legally registered.
DBA name registration is usually done at the State level in which the company operates.
The rules for selecting a DBA or Fictitious Name are similar to selecting a legal name for your LLC:
- You cannot use “Incorporation,” “Incorporated,” “Inc.,” as part as your DBA name if your business is not a registered corporation.
- Cannot use certain words like “Bank” or “Trust” and “Federal” or “United States”
- Use a name that is deceptively similar to another business name on record
- Use a name that implies it is a governmental unit such as “city” or “borough”
You will also want to make sure your DBA name isn’t being used by someone else.
Tips for Choosing the Perfect Name for your LLC
As you can see, a lot goes into choosing the perfect name for your LLC!
It can seem overwhelming but is necessary to avoid any future problems with the name of your LLC.
Here are a few more things to consider when selecting that perfect name for your LLC:
- Do a domain name availability search. Eventually you will want to create a website for your business and it is best for your businesses URL to match your business name. This makes it easier for customers and potential customers to find you when doing a Google search. If you are already looking at LLC name ideas, might as well see if you can find one with an available domain name and snag that up as well.
- Come up with a unique and distinctive business name. Not only do you want a unique business name to keep you out of any legal troubles, you also want a unique name that will help you stand out amongst your competitors.
- Avoid using personal names such as first names, surnames, or initials in your company name. Also avoid names using your geographical location such as “California”. You never know if your business will grow or become more brand-able and these sorts of naming conventions don’t generally do as well.
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