If you're ready to create your LLC, here's what you need to know about naming it.
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Sometimes a business name arrives in the same “Eureka!” moment that the business idea itself does. Juan was pondering starting his own organic seeds company when the name “Takes Juan to Grow One” hit him like a lightning bolt. Other times, a great business idea is there, but the perfect name hasn’t materialized.
Whether you already have a name idea in mind for your limited liability company (LLC) or you’re drawing a blank, we have some guidance for you.
People misuse the word “unique” to mean “unusual,” but its actual meaning is “one of a kind.” Your LLC can’t have the same name as another business in your state — not just because it’s good marketing, but because it’s also the law.
So how do you know if your brilliant business name hasn’t already been claimed? Googling your proposed name is a good start, but most states have a searchable business name database on their Secretary of State website. This allows you to quickly see if any other businesses in your state are using the name you want.
Ideally, your LLC name should tell you something about what your business is and what you offer. That way, someone hearing your LLC name in conversation or seeing it on a sign as they drive by can immediately know what goods or services you’re selling and, if it’s something they want, make a mental note (or even pull over).
Putting a word or two in your name that tells you something extra about the company also sets you apart you from similar businesses. In researching your competition, what have you learned about them, and what will make your business different?
Tim wanted to start a tree-trimming company, so he looked up other tree trimmers in the area and perused their customer reviews. A common complaint he saw was that the tree trimmers were frequently late or pulled no-shows. Tim, being a punctual fellow, dubbed his company “Tim’s Timely Tree Trimming, LLC.”
Did we mention the naming process can be one of the most fun aspects of starting your LLC? Think of it as a word game.
First, brainstorm some words you associate with your business, as well as things like your name, location, etc. Then think about interesting ways you could fit those words together. You could rhyme them, use alliteration (putting together words starting with the same letter, as Tim did), or take parts of different words and stick them together (e.g., Amtrak, which comes from “American” and a deliberate misspelling of “track”).
Your name can capitalize on the familiar by using common expressions (remember Juan?) or references to classic literature or famous locales. It’s one more thing that helps make the name more memorable than just stringing together you and your LLC partner’s names. You can also find online business name generators to help get your creative juices going.
When you think about your LLC, what is its overall goal and purpose (beyond profit)? What do you want to do for your clients, and how do you want to do it? What words do you want people to associate with your company? Have those words reflected in the name.
If you’re a party planner, you want your LLC name to convey fun; if you have a funeral home, not so much (even though “fun” is right there in the name).
If you’re stuck for a unique business name, it can be tempting to stick the name of your city or town in front of the name to set it apart. But what happens if your business grows beyond your own neighborhood? Sure, “Boise in the Hood Custom Sweatshirts” is a clever name for your Idaho silk screening company, but what if want to branch out to other cities or even states?
By the same token, if you sell a certain product or service and reflect that in the LLC name now, will it hinder you if you decide to expand and sell additional things later?
Rules for LLC names vary by state, so you’ll have to check your particular state’s parameters to ensure your company name is in compliance. However, the following rules are common to many states:
Note that most states have different rules about how different your LLC name must be from another company, most don’t consider minuscule changes to a name (e.g., adding an “s” to the name or changing up the punctuation) to be enough to claim that your business name is unique.
You’ll also want to make sure your desired business name isn’t trademarked. To do so, or to trademark your own name, visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. You can search their federal database to see what names are already claimed.
In addition to federal trademarks, most states have state trademarks that apply only within their borders. Searching for existing state trademarks isn’t always as easy as searching on the federal level, but most state government websites have a search engine to check these.
Once you’ve settled on the perfect (and available) LLC name, grab it before someone else swipes it. Most states will allow you to reserve a business name for a fee and a set amount of time (both of which vary by state) even before your filing is complete. You usually have to complete a special form, as well.
If you want help reserving your business name, check out our name reservation service. We’ll also check to make sure your desired name is available.
If your LLC is to have a presence on the Internet (and it really should), you need a good, easy-to-spell-and-remember domain name, so you may want to factor that into your naming decision.
Odds are fair your first choice of World Wide Web real estate is already claimed, so you may have to get creative. There’s also the possibility that whoever owns your coveted URL would be willing to sell it for a reasonable price.
Choosing a name for your LLC can be fun, but cutting through the red tape of starting a business usually isn’t. Get started with us today to see how we can help turn your business concept and name into a reality.
Disclaimer: The content on this page is for informational 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.
That depends on many factors. If people already know your name and associate it with your good work or reputation, it could help. For example, if you’ve been operating as a sole proprietorship for years and have a client base under your personal name, it might make sense to keep your name in the LLC name when you register the business with the state. Plus, if your name is uncommon, it might help you stand apart from competitors and more easily find an available business name and domain name.
On the other hand, if you’re virtually unknown and/or have a common name, it might be better to exclude your personal name from the LLC name. Clients might be more comfortable with a more conventional business name.
The name you put down when you do your LLC paperwork with the state is your official LLC and business name. If you want it to be something else, you can either follow your state’s legal process for changing it (this usually involves amending your original Articles of Organization and paying a filing fee) or you can get a “doing business as” (DBA) name.
A DBA name, also known in some states as a trade name or fictitious name, is an alias for a business that allows it to legally operate under a name other than its legal name. Some LLCs use a DBA because it’s often easier than changing the legal name of the business.
It’s also sometimes used when an LLC wants to open an additional store or product line, such as a clothing store wanting to open another store that’s only children’s clothes. Other LLCs get a DBA so that they can drop the designator from their business name. The designator is the legally required word(s) in a name that indicates the business entity type, such as “LLC” or “limited liability company.” Some LLCs get a DBA just to drop the “LLC.”
Finding the right business name can be critical to your LLC’s success. The right name can tell clients what you sell, catch their attention, and/or even tell them something about your business that sets it apart from competitors.
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