Fact checked for accuracy by Billie Anne Grigg, a bookkeeper and Mastery Level Certified Profit First Professional.
A business with LLC status provides legal liability protection for its owners and officers. Setting up an LLC is easy and affordable.
The LLC process starts with a name search. The search ensures that another business or organization does not already take the business name you want to use.
The following are some instructions on how to do a name search and a list of where you can start, per state.
Where To Do a Business Name Search
Every state has an overseer of businesses and corporations. Usually, it is the Secretary of State. Within the Secretary of State’s office, there is almost always a business division or agency that manages corporate names, business licenses, registrations, and associated taxes and fees.
Each state also has a search system to verify that no other entity has the name you want. In most cases, you can search registered business names online. It also usually can be done by staff if you go in-person to the Business division of your Secretary of State’s office.
Using the Business Name Search Tool
Most states have a search tool that closely resembles the search tool you would use on an internet search engine (Google, Bing, or Yahoo). You enter the name you want to use for your business and search if any matches come up.
Just about every state’s search function generates the following:
- No matches if there are no exact or partial matches
- A list of exact name matches
- A list of partial names matches
- A list of possible matches with businesses with similar names
Reserve Your Name
If your search comes back with no matches, you should reserve your name with your state’s Secretary of State. Not every state allows this, but many do. However, if possible, you should file your LLC formation documents and pay the fee due as soon as you can.
Every state has its LLC registration fee. You can find the fee total on the Secretary of State’s website. Paying the fee as soon as possible is one way of ensuring you get the name you want if no one else has that name.
Where to Search
The following is a list of all 50 states, plus Washington, DC, and the link to help you get started searching names.
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
What To Do if the Name You Want Is Taken
If your name is taken, you do have options.
If an Exact Match is Returned
This is the worst-case scenario. It means your first choice of a name will not work. You do need to research that business, however. There is a slim possibility that the business is defunct or willing to give up the name for many reasons.
There is also an even slimmer chance that you might be able to secure the name from the business that has it. For this to work, the entity you are contacting is on the verge of retiring and less wedded to the name. If that is the case, there is a chance you can buy the name from them.
If neither of these two possibilities works, and you need to be prepared that they probably will not, you will need to change the name you want to use for your LLC. Make sure that the new name is sufficiently different from your first choice so that you do not run into other match issues.
If Partial or Possible Names are Returned
Technically, you can use your name. You may, however, want to investigate the businesses with similar names. It might be an input error in the state database, or in some cases, you may want to change your name because of what the business with a similar name lists as its core business.
Do a Trademark Search Too
Even if the business name you want is not already taken in your state, there could still be a trademark on the name. You can use this handy search tool on the USPTO (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) website to determine if your name is already trademarked.
The Last Word
Searching for the business name you want with your state and the USPTO is necessary before officially filing your LLC formation documents. It’s a quick and easy search to find out if your name is taken and can prevent some future legal headaches.
Have questions? Let us know; we’re always happy to help.
Filed under: Advice Columns