How to Make Your Business Name Legal

Written by Austin Chegini

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Making your business name legal in the United States can mean a few things. Legalizing your name can mean creating an entity name to protect you at the state level, registering a trademark to protect you at the federal level, creating a DBA name, or creating a domain name. 

Since each of these items has a unique purpose and benefit, you might need to complete a few of these tasks to get complete legal protection. 

Keep reading to find out how to make your business name legal in the US.

The benefits of registering your business name

When you register your business name, you are notifying your state government that you’re claiming a particular business name that no one else will be able to use. 

While it’s not required to register a business name with your state government, it will protect you in the event of a competitor or other company wanting to use it. 

Registering a business name doesn't mean you have to use it right away. For example, if you’re set on a specific business name, but you’re not sure what legal form your company will take, you should register your business name anyway. You can always change your mind later. 

If you’re forming a sole proprietorship, you should definitely register your business name with the state because these types of legal business structures aren’t registered any other way. 

What business name registration is NOT

There’s a difference between registering a business name with a state and registering a business legal entity, such as a limited liability company or a corporation. Different legal entities must register in different ways. For example, a corporation registers with a state by submitting articles of incorporation.

If you’re creating a limited liability company, partnership, or corporation in your state, you don’t need to file a separate business name registration application. Most states will register the name as part of the application process. 

Just be sure you choose a good name before you do. 

Choosing a business name

Once you’ve made the decision to register your business name, you need to choose a great name that will represent your company and brand.

Once you’ve settled on that, you’ll need to make sure to conduct a search for similar names used by other companies. 

Business entity name search

The first way you can search for similar names is to check with your Secretary of State. This is a vital part of the process because states do not allow businesses to have the same names. For this reason, they have a business name lookup tool, such as this one from New York.

In some states, a state-level name search is not required for informal business structures such as sole proprietorship or general partnerships.

Domain name search

It’s good practice to check to see if your business name is available as a web domain as well. Ensuring the domain name is free will help when creating a website. Not only will securing your business website help customers find you online, but it will also prevent malicious actors from posing as your business.

Federal trademark records

Next, you’ll want to do a quick search on the US Trademark Electronic Search System to find out if someone else has already trademarked your name. If the name is available, you can register for a trademark for your business name. This will prevent others from using your brand name or logo.

However, the cost of trademarking can be high and it may not be affordable for fledgling businesses. 

Searching the web

You’ll also want to do a bunch of simple internet searches to find out if a business is using your intended name but on an unregistered basis. This will help you prepare for and avoid any circumstances where you’re using the name or brand of another company without knowing it. It’s very common for businesses to use a business name but never register it. 

Creating an entity name

An entity name is your company’s legal name. This may or may not be the same name under which you do business.

Registering an entity name protects your business name at the state level. Registering a legal entity name may be required depending on your business structure (LLC, corporation, etc). 

Rules for entity names also vary depending on the state in which you set up your business. For example, most states don’t allow you to register a name that’s already taken without the express permission of the owner of said name. 

As long as you register your entity name with your state, other companies will not be able to operate under that same name (although exceptions exist in some states). 

Registering for a trademark

When you register a trademark for your business name, you’re protecting your brand and company at the federal level.

You don’t have to trademark just your name. You can trademark all sorts of things, from designs, products, colors, fabrics, and more. 

Businesses in every state are subject to trademark lawsuits. This is why you’ll want to make sure your brand, products, and business name don’t already appear in the official trademark database.

You can register your trademark with the United States Trademark and Patent Office once you’ve created your business. 

Creating a DBA name

A “Doing Business As” (DBA) name is a name for your company that is different from your entity name.  

This is a fictitious or assumed name for your company that you register with the state or city in which you operate. While your legal entity name may be something like North Star Operations, you may want to trade under the name Chicago Snow Ploughs. If your DBA is going to be different than your entity name, you’ll need to register it with the state. 

Registering a DBA won’t give you any legal protections, but most states and business structures require you to register a DBA. 

Getting a DBA also allows you to get a federal tax ID number, which allows you to open a business bank account. 

There are no first-come-first-serve rules for DBAs - many companies can go by the same DBA in one state. However, trademark infringement rules will still apply.

Creating a domain name

Most businesses want an online presence. If you want to conduct business online, too, it’s a good idea to register a domain name (your website address/URL). 

Once you register your domain name, no one else can use it - it’s a great way of protecting your brand and online presence.

However, if your intended domain is taken, that’s no big deal. Your domain name doesn't have to be an exact match of your entity name, trademark, or DBA. The domain name for a company named “Slick Rides” could be slickridesmotors.com or srmotors.com.

You’ll need to register your domain name through a registrar service. Use a directory of accredited registrars to determine which ones you should use. You will need to renew your domain name on a regular basis. 

Secure your online presence

Most businesses need to have a digital presence to become viable. That’s why a great, functional website is vital to almost any business’s success.

If you’re looking to create a new retail or hospitality business, there’s no better place to start than by creating a beautiful, professional website.  

Epos Now Online new offers an easy-to-use and hassle-free website builder. With this tool, you can attract more business and increase your security with a completely customizable, multi-channel platform.

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Learn more about Epos Now

Epos Now offers point of sale systems for small and large businesses. Our hardware and software are incredibly flexible, so you can do business on your terms. 

In addition to helping you create a website, Epos Now and our integrated partners can:

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Contact Epos Now today to see our systems in action.

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