Deciding whether your California company needs a “doing business as” (DBA) name, or a “fictitious business name” as they are known in the Golden State, is a consideration that any entrepreneur should weigh carefully.
This comprehensive guide represents a useful resource for understanding, obtaining, and maintaining a great DBA name for your California business.
What is a California “doing business as” (DBA) name?
Your California DBA name is essentially a name you decide to promote to the public when it comes to your company’s persona. Business owners choose DBA names for a variety of reasons. Note that in California specifically, a DBA name is referred to as a “fictitious business name.”
Some do so because they do not want to attach a business designator, such as “LLC” or “Corp.,” to their business offerings. Others choose a DBA name because they don’t want to accept money for the business under their personal names or wish to choose a name that fits into a particular acronym, established jingle, or relevant marketing model.
One important distinction to make is that a DBA name is not a business entity type. It does not impact the taxes you will owe or alter the structure of any expectations you will face from the California state government. A DBA name is merely a legal alias for your company.
The following bullets offer a basic explanation of the two categories of businesses that tend to seek DBA names:
- Sole proprietorships and partnerships: These business structures generally seek a DBA name so that their business is not forced to be referred to as the owner’s legal name. This is also a way for businesses to start up quickly without declaring themselves under the restrictions and qualifications of an LLC or corporation.
- Corporations and LLCs: These entities often choose a DBA name to operate under a different name for the launch of a new product, to drop a designator, or even to build in the possibility of branching out under different branding.
A short list of scenarios in which it is mandatory to register a California DBA name include:
- When a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, or corporation wants to sign documents and run operations under any name other than the one formally registered with the state.
- When any sole proprietorship or general partnership wishes to do business under a different name than that of the owner(s), or when the owner(s) does not intend to utilize their last name(s).
The following list explains some of the more common benefits of registering a DBA name in California:
- You enjoy the ability to choose a name that will resonate with customers.
- You enjoy the freedom to conduct transactions and banking under that second name.
- You formally begin the journey to trademark rights. While having a DBA name does not grant trademark rights, it provides a provable, recorded date on which your company began associating itself with any products, services, logos, etc., that you plan to trademark in the future. Having this documentation saves you stress and time down the road.
How do I choose a California DBA name?
When choosing a DBA name for your business, there are a number of marketing considerations that should inform your selection. Factors such as ensuring your name is distinctive from other businesses currently registered, not misleading the public, and having a name that conveys the true nature of your business are vital.
California is a state that requires the registration of DBA names at the county level. You can begin a proper investigation of your intended DBA name via the California Secretary of State business search site. You’ll then need to check with the county clerk’s office of the county in which you intend to do business to see if the name is available there.
Even though DBA name statements are not filed with the Secretary of State, all formal registered California business names are housed there, and the Secretary of State website is another strong resource for determining what names are already in use in the state.
How do I register a California DBA name?
To register a fictitious business name in California, you will need to apply in the county where you have your business’s principal location. If your business is not physically in California, but you still need a California DBA name, you will need to register with the Clerk of Sacramento County.
The following represents the basic steps needed to register a DBA name at the county level in California:
- Search the state and local name databases and contact your county government to make sure your desired DBA name is available.
- Complete the appropriate Fictitious Business Name Statement form for your county or city and submit with all of the required signatures. All forms will ask for information about each business owner, the desired DBA name, and the name of the company as registered with the Secretary of State.
- Pay the requisite fees associated with your filing.
- Meet the publication requirements set forth.
How do I manage ongoing DBA name compliance in California?
Typically, the publication requirements associated with a California DBA name state that within 30 days of filing the DBA name form, the registrant must publish the DBA name statement in a local newspaper of general circulation and within a reasonable nearness to the principal place of business.
Such notices must appear one time per week for a total of four sequential weeks. Within 30 days of that final publication week, the registrant needs to file an affidavit of publication with the city or county office. Some cities and counties may specify publications that are approved to run DBA name statements, and some of these publications will file the affidavit of their own accord. Check with your Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office to ensure you meet the correct guidelines for your area.
Filing fees for California DBA names fluctuate by county. To inquire about the specifics of cost relative to your own filing, check with the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office in the county where your California business is centrally located. Your California DBA name filing is then valid for a total of five years or until the facts in the original DBA name statement may change, whichever comes first. At the time of your DBA name’s renewal, you will need to file the proper renewal form utilized by your specific city or county and pay any standardized renewal fees associated with that update.
Most counties in California require that DBA name statements be filed within 40 days of the start of the business. Some local governments may require multiple copies of the DBA name statement at the time of filing, and it is common for the clerk or recorder to retain the original when returning all secondary copies to the registrant.
California DBA FAQs
How much does it cost to register a California DBA name?
Because California recognizes DBA names at the county level, the cost varies by county.
What is the processing time to register a California DBA?
Each city and county in California has different requirements for DBA name filings. If the county in which you plan to do business has an online filing option, this usually greatly diminishes the turnaround time of your DBA name filing.
As all DBA names must be filed within 40 days of the business officially beginning, and most must be published for four sequential weeks in a local newspaper before becoming legal, you can estimate a minimum of five weeks to complete your DBA registration.
Do I need a DBA name for my California business?
If you are operating your business under a name other than its legal name, you’re required to acquire a DBA name. A sole proprietorship or partnership must get a DBA if doing business under any name different from the legal name of the owner or owners.
If I register a DBA name in California, can another business use the same name?
As DBA names are locally governed in California and not registered with the Secretary of State, they tend not to be legally exclusive. This means that you could, in theory, encounter another business in California operating under the same name as your company’s DBA name. To avoid this problem, file for a California trademark. Trademarks such as this are protected within the state of California, and DBA names cannot override or violate them.
Can a business in California have multiple DBA names?
If your California company has distinct areas of operation, you may register more than one DBA name. These registrations are handled at the city and county levels, and if statewide business is your plan, you may end up registering in multiple places. You may also wish to register multiple DBA names if you plan to brand separate products or services under the larger umbrella of your official business entity name.
Is a DBA name the same thing as a fictitious business name in California?
In California, a DBA name is formally referred to as a “fictitious business name.” You may also have heard this title referred to as a “trade name” or an “assumed name.”
Do I need a DBA name in California if I use my own name for a sole proprietorship?
As a sole proprietor in California, you are legally forbidden from conducting business under any other name than your own unless you have acquired a DBA name.
Will using a DBA name affect how my business is taxed in California?
Your California business taking on a DBA name will have no impact on how it is taxed. As the adoption of a DBA name has no relation to the establishment or formal registration of the business with the state government, it cannot alter how your company is structured or affect how it is taxed at the local, state, and federal levels.
Need additional guidance on starting a business in California? Contact ZenBusiness today to learn how we can expedite the process. Our experts in business formation and compliance can take the stress out of running and growing your California small business!