Your company name is arguably a sacred part of your business. Whether you're drafting a business plan or creating a business website, you know that your business name will need to be at the center of each of these important components.
With this in mind, you’ll want to protect your business name against others potentially using and misusing it. To help you determine the best way to register a business name, this guide will walk you through the process and provide you with insight into each option.
Select a business name
Before you can register a business name, you’ll need to come up with a solid name, which is an essential part of starting a business. While finding the right name takes some creativity and research, the process may not begin the same way for everyone. You might already know that whichever name you come up with, it has to reflect the types of products or services you offer. For example, a nail technician will most likely highlight the word nail in their business name, especially since that’s the core of their work identity.
Then there are those whose businesses may be broader or expect to grow and diversify. In both cases, it’s recommended to follow these guidelines on how to name a business from scratch so that you can come up with one that checks all the right boxes.
Here are the main factors you’ll need to consider:
Use a business name generator A company name generator lets you get a head start on the naming process by automatically generating a handful of best company names for you. You can use the options as ideas and modify them to your likening.
To use this tool, just type three descriptive words about your business into the search bar. Try to focus on industry-specific descriptive terms when feeding words into the generator, such as:
Fitness: Try body, mind and health.
Restaurant: Think fresh, market and gourmet.
Craftsperson: Emphasize artisan, folk and handmade in your search.
Designer: Attribute to concepts like, modern, vintage or edgy.
Now that you have a long list of business name ideas, use your personal preferences and professional instincts to narrow down your options. First and foremost, your business name should be original so that it can stand out against your competitors. Ideally, people will come to recognize your unique name and instantly connect it to your brand, which can help you down the road if you choose to register your business name and trademark it.
Keep it simple
Whichever original name you choose, your customers will need to know how to write it down or type it into a search engine. With that in mind, use a name that is easy to remember and spell. That way there won’t be any confusion or misspellings on their part, as well as by future partners and suppliers for your branded merchandise and dealings.
Once you’ve decided on a choice, you may want to operate as DBA and test out the name until you make it official. When you're ready, it’s time to move on to the next step: registering your business name.
How to register a business name in 3 ways
Now that you’ve got a strong name for your business, you’re ready to make it official. The main reason to register a business name is to protect your company or brand so others can’t use the same one. While I will be focusing on what this process looks like in the US, I highly recommend that those registering a business name in other countries turn to their local government agencies for further insight.
Depending on your legal structure and which state you’re doing business in the US, there are several ways to register your company name. Each one serves a different purpose, so read carefully through the eligibility and requirements that follow.
01. Selecting an entity name
One method of registering a business name is by filling out the required paperwork for becoming a business entity. The entity name you choose will be the legal name of your business. You will have to sign every official document and contract under this name as required by state rules.
Once you decide on what type of business you want to form, whether that’s an unincorporated business (like an LLC) or corporation, you must file registration papers with the appropriate Secretary of State’s office, a Business Bureau or a Business Agency, along with your chosen legal name. Furthermore, state laws prohibit companies from registering a name that’s already in use by another firm and from using certain phrases or words. This is why doing an entity business name search and researching the rules and regulations per state is crucial throughout the process.
With that being said, corporation suffixes such as Inc or Co don’t have to feel intimidating as you build a brand. In fact, many of us can trace back our earliest and possibly most enduring encounter with entity names in nostalgic places like the cartoon Looney Tunes and its fictional Acme Corporation. Interestingly, this has left a positive connotation in terms of brand image, showing that entity names can serve to strengthen brand authority.
02. Choosing a DBA name
Alternatively, you can choose a Doing Business As name, also known as a DBA. This allows you to do business as a name other than your own or entity name. It’s a good option if you’re a sole proprietor and want to register your business under a name other than your own. In the same line, corporations and LLCs may prefer to use a name that’s different than the one they filed with their legal paperwork (i.e. Fresh Foods Inc. can register their DBA as Fresh Foods).
While it doesn’t provide legal protection, most local and state governments require that you register a business name in some form or another. And with a DBA, you’d also be eligible for a federal tax ID number (EIN) and can open a business bank account under it. Registering a business name as a DBA can boost your company strategy and the ways in which you conduct business.
03. Buy your domain name
For some small business owners, registering a domain name for your business name is the final step of the naming process. Even if you’re in the early stages of creating a website for your new business, you should buy a domain name as soon as possible to prevent another business from acquiring it.
A best practice is to use your business name as your domain name so that customers can easily identify and find your business online. But first, you’ll need to conduct a domain name search to make sure that yours is available. Once you’ve got your domain name, you can register it with Wix for as long as you need it, and be ready for when you connect it to your site.
Bonus: Trademark your business name
While business names are registered at a state level, when you trademark a business name you take one step further toward protecting your company mark on a national level. Let’s take a deeper dive into what that entails.
Under the Lanham Act, also known as the Trademark Act of 1946, activities such as trademark infringement, dilution of a famous mark and false advertising are prohibited by law. Any word, phrase, logo or symbol that is identified or distinguished by a trademark, such as Betty Crocker, Google or Ford, is entitled to federal judicial protection against infringement.
In order to be eligible for trademark protection, your company mark must be “in use in commerce and it must be distinctive,” according to the Act. If you meet the requirements, you may file an application to trademark your business name through the United States Patent and Trademark Office, where you will need to pay a processing fee starting from $250 per class of goods and services. Before you can officially trademark a business name, double check yours against the official database by the USPTO.