How to Conduct an District of Columbia (DC) Business Entity Search

This guide will show you how to search for and lock down the perfect business name for your District of Columbia (DC) LLC.

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Every LLC needs a name, preferably a catchy one, specifically one that isn’t already in use. After all, despite how clever it may be, you can’t steal someone else’s name.

“But,” you may ask, “how do I know if a name is already in use?” It’s a good question. There are quite a few businesses in Washington, D.C., and a lot of names to check. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to go about it: performing an LLC name search.

DC Secretary of State Contact Information

1100 4th St SW,
Washington, DC 20024
Office Hours
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,
Friday 8:30 am to 4:30 pm and
Thursday 9:30 am to 4:30 pm
In-person service stops accepting
visitors at 4:00 pm.
(202) 671-4500

Checking for District of Columbia LLC name availability is the most common reason to perform a search, but it’s far from the only one. Here are a few other reasons you might search for a name:

1) Finding Similar Names

You don’t want potential customers confusing you with another company, especially if that company is a competitor. Your proposed name might be available, but there could also be multiple businesses out there with deceivingly similar ones. If you don’t want your LLC getting mixed up with other businesses, this might prompt you to find a new name.

2) Checking Your Business Status

Once you’ve filed the Articles of Organization and started your D.C. LLC, you can periodically check its status by searching for your existing name. This will confirm your business’ good standing with the district.

3) Registered Agent Name and Office Information

At some point, you might need to send a business service of process. Or, more positively, you might want to partner with them. In either case, you’ll need their District of Columbia registered agent name and office address, readily available through a name search.

4) Maintaining Current Business Information

When modifying your LLC’s information – like changing your D.C. registered agent to an LLC member or a registered agent service  – you will want to confirm the information that the district already has on file. A name search will take care of this for you.

The D.C. Business Center website has a simple Business Search page on which you can enter a full or partial business name to conduct a search.

If the name you want is available, great! You can go ahead and reserve it or use it on your Articles of Organization. If it’s already in use, you’re out of luck, and you’ll need to come up with a new one.

If you’re seeking information on an existing business, you can search through D.C.’s databases of corporations, business licenses, professional licenses, and Certified Business Enterprises from the same page we linked above.

What if My Name Is Unavailable?

Unfortunately, sometimes you find that your perfect name is already in use in D.C. What now?

If your LLC is domestic (formed in D.C.), your only option is to start brainstorming ideas for a different one. Just don’t use one that’s too similar. Then, when you’ve found an acceptable, available name, go ahead and reserve it.

There are some additional steps if you run a foreign LLC, though. You’ve already been operating under a business name in other states, but if that name is unavailable in D.C., you will need to register a different one in order to operate in compliance with District law.

How to Make a D.C. LLC Name Distinguishable

All District of Columbia business names, actual or alternate, registered or reserved, must adhere to the state’s naming requirements. They state that your LLC name must:

  • End with “Limited Liability Company,” which may be abbreviated to L.L.C. or LLC
  • Not be the same as or deceptively similar to any business names currently on file with the District
  • Not include any words or abbreviations that would imply the LLC is a different entity type, such as “corporation,” “Inc.,” “limited partnership,” etc.
  • Not use the words “bank,” “banking,” “credit union,” or “insurance” without approval from the mayor’s office
  • Not be deceptively similar to or the same as any government agency within the United States

For more information about the guidelines for Washington, D.C., business names, take a look at Title 29, Chapter 1, Subchapter III of the Code of the District of Columbia.

What’s Next?

What you do next depends entirely on what your goal is. If you’re checking for name availability and your name is free in D.C., you can proceed to reserve it or use it on your Articles of Organization.

Reserving a D.C. business name costs $50, which is more expensive than it is in most states, and you’ll have the exclusive rights to the name for 120 days.

Or, you can simply use the name on your Articles of Organization when you start your LLC, which will register it automatically.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • You cannot use the words bank, banking, credit union, insurance, or “words of similar import” without the prior approval of the mayor.

  • No. In fact, Alabama is the only state that requires entrepreneurs to reserve a business name before forming an LLC. In Washington, D.C., and the other 49 states, this is an optional and largely unnecessary step.

  • How many small businesses are there in the District of Columbia today?

  • The District of Columbia chapter of the Small Business Development Center is a great place to start. You will also find many excellent resources with the Small Business Administration’s Washington Metropolitan Area District Office. The district government also has its own Small Business Resource Center with plenty of valuable tools.

  • The overall costs of operating a D.C. LLC can vary considerably based on the specifics of your business. However, we created a helpful guide to help you identify and plan for every expense your LLC will face in this jurisdiction.

  • The answer to this question lies in your personal preferences, but we can give some general pointers. An attorney will cost the most by a mile, but also provides expertise you won’t find with the other options. The DIY route is free of charge but can require quite a bit of legwork and provides no peace of mind that the process is being completed correctly.

    Using an LLC service means your business will be formed by professionals who know what they’re doing, while also costing significantly less than a lawyer. This “best of both worlds” attribute is what makes LLC services our preferred option.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.

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Written by Team ZenBusiness

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