Say you’re opening a small business in North Dakota and want to know if you are required to register a “doing business as” (DBA) name. If so, what are the steps you need to follow to get a North Dakota DBA name? What are the benefits of having one, and what state regulations should you be aware of?
What is an North Dakota “doing business as” (DBA) name?
When a North Dakota business operates using a name different from the owner’s name or the legal name of the partnership, limited liability company (LLC), or corporation, it is said to be “doing business as.” To be clear, a North Dakota DBA name is an alias for the business and not a business entity type (with the associated tax implications).
DBA names are used throughout the country but often have differences from state to state. A DBA name might also be referred to as a “fictitious name,” “assumed name,” or “trade name.” In North Dakota, a DBA name is known as a “trade name.”
While registering a DBA name is optional in some states, if you want to use a trade name in North Dakota, you must register it. (“A person or organization may not engage in business in this state under a trade name until the trade name is registered with the secretary of state.”)
The trade name is used to identify the new business or activities of an individual or an organization and doesn’t include the true name of the organization or the first name or surname of each individual using the business name.
North Dakota also handles DBA names differently for general partnerships, calling them “fictitious partnership names.” Any partnership that transacts business in this state “under a fictitious name or under a designation that does not show the names of the persons interested as partners must file a fictitious name certificate with the secretary of state,” with a filing fee of $25.
Both the North Dakota trade name and fictitious partnership name cannot be “deceptively similar” to any name registered with the Secretary of State unless the holder of a similar name provides their written consent, which needs to be supplied with the business’s North Dakota DBA name registration.
The types of businesses that would want a DBA name typically fall into two categories:
- Sole proprietorships and general partnerships: These businesses want a DBA name so that they can be referred to beyond just the person’s legal name.
- Corporations and LLCs: These businesses would want a DBA name so that they can drop the designator from their name (e.g., “Corp.” or “LLC”).
Some of the benefits of operating under a North Dakota DBA name include:
- You can better connect with customers with a DBA name tailored to your brand or new product offering.
- While a North Dakota trade name doesn’t grant trademark rights, it can help save you time when applying for a trademark by providing a recorded date that you started associating the DBA name with your products and services.
- If your legal name is already in use, you can expand into the North Dakota market using a DBA name.
- A DBA name can help you open a business bank account.
How do I choose a North Dakota DBA name?
Depending on your business structure, you must choose a North Dakota trade name or fictitious partnership name that is not “deceptively similar” to an existing name, either reserved or registered with the Secretary of State. You can check what names exist by conducting a name search using the state’s Business Records Search portal.
Other than that, some best practices for choosing a North Dakota DBA name include:
- Picking a North Dakota DBA name that is consistent with your brand and the products or services you offer
- Choosing a name that potential customers can easily pronounce and spell
- Trying to distinguish yourself from competitors
- Using a name that easily converts to and is available for a web domain name
The North Dakota DBA name you choose should not contain the word “Company,” “Corporation,” “Incorporated,” “Limited,” “Limited Liability Company,” “Limited Partnership,” “Limited Liability Partnership,” “Limited Liability Limited Partnership,” or any abbreviation of any of these unless you are one of these business entities.
How do I register a North Dakota DBA name?
In registering your North Dakota DBA name, you only need to do so at the state level. Businesses can register their North Dakota DBA name online through the Secretary of State web portal after creating an account and receiving a unique login ID that gives them access to a suite of online services. It costs $25 to register your North Dakota DBA name.
To register your North Dakota DBA name, you need to enter in the online fields:
- The proposed trade name
- The name and address of the owner of the business, or if it’s a corporation, LLC, or other organization, enter the state or country of incorporation or organization
- The address of the principal place of business
- A detailed description of the nature of the business
Note that there is not a registration form to mail in. You would also need to pay $10 for each written consent you supply (for the use of an existing name). Once done, you will receive a Certificate of Registration, and the name will be indexed in the office of the Secretary of State within 30 days.
How do I manage ongoing DBA name compliance in North Dakota?
Once you’ve registered your North Dakota DBA name, you will need to renew it every five years. At least 90 days before expiration, the Secretary of State will notify your business it’s time to register again. A business can re-register their DBA name using the same online process they used to originally register it. The Secretary of State may destroy all renewals or registrations one year after they expire.
There’s no form for canceling a trade name. To do so, a business must draft and sign a cancellation request and submit it to the North Dakota Secretary of State with a $10 fee.
If you want to transfer ownership of your trade name, you can also do it through the North Dakota Secretary of State website for a $25 fee. The trade name assignment does not extend the registration period of a trade name, but the new owner gets the trade name for the remainder of the registration period (and then they have to renew it).