You must understand the process and considerations involved in naming an LLC (limited liability company) after you have decided to form an LLC.
The name you choose for your LLC will need to be “distinguishable” and must not be the same as another LLC’s name on file with your Secretary of State. Your business attorney can guide you through the process of naming an LLC.
LLC Naming Guidelines
Choosing the name for your LLC is not an issue that can be taken lightly. A business attorney will know the regulations in your state regarding what makes a good LLC name, but here are some general guidelines to follow when choosing an LLC name.
- The name must contain the words “limited liability company” somewhere.
- The name cannot indicate or imply that it is organized for any purpose other than operating a limited liability company. For example, the following names would likely violate these guidelines: ABC Partnership & Co., ABC Partnerships, Inc., ABC LLP (Limited Liability Partnership)- The name cannot use the words “Corporation,” “Incorporated” or “Limited Company.”
- It cannot be similar to another business name in your state of the organization without written consent from that company.
- Name your LLC without punctuation, initials, numbers, or symbols unless they are part of your state’s guidelines for LLC names.
How to buy an LLC name
When an LLC is formed, it must file a document called a “fictitious name” or “assumed name certificate” with the Secretary of State, which lists the LLC’s assumed name for doing business.
If you have just begun filing your fictitious name documents and have not yet been approved to do business under an assumed name, you’ll need to hold off on hiring a business attorney until this process has been completed.
Once your LLC assumes a fictitious name via its Secretary of State, you’ll be able to choose the exact wording of that assumed name by using a service such as LegalZoom or Zenbusiness.
LLC name vs. trademark
The name of your LLC is not the same thing as a trademark. The term “trademark” means any word, phrase, symbol or design, or any combination thereof used by a person to identify goods produced or services rendered and to distinguish them from the goods of another.
A trade name is a name under which a business entity or individual does business. Trade names are often used synonymously with assumed names and fictitious business names, but those terms also have specific meanings.
An LLC files an assumed name certificate with its Secretary of State to do business under an assumed name separate from its official LLC name(s) as stated on its Articles of Organization. Depending upon where you form your LLC, an assumed name may be called a “trade name” or “fictitious business name.”
Avoiding trademark violations
When choosing an LLC name, there are definitely some things to avoid. For instance, if you use your own full name as the LLC name, this may constitute a violation of someone else’s trademark rights and could put you at risk for legal action.
Also, any company already registered with your Secretary of State (or Federal Government) must be contacted and ask for written permission to use the same trade name, which provides more insight into how their business is set up.
Trademarking your business name
As an LLC, you are not required to register your LLC name as a trademark. But there may be benefits to doing so. By registering your business name as a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), you can secure exclusive rights to that name nationwide should another company subsequently try to use it.
A federal trademark registration will protect your company’s brand by making this information public on the USPTO website. That means no other company could legally infringe upon your trade name without consequences.
Using a DBA for an LLC
If you have formed an LLC but haven’t yet received your Letter of Good Standing from the state, or if you are conducting business under an assumed name other than the one stated on your Articles of Organization, use a DBA (Doing Business As) instead.
A DBA is a simple form that allows a sole proprietor to do business under a name other than their own full name. The specific requirements for filing a DBA depend upon which state you live in and typically range from $20-$100. These fees may vary depending on whether the DBA is done online, by mail, or in person. States may also require additional materials such as:
- A Statement from the owner about why the business wants to do business under an assumed name
- The reason the LLC’s fictitious name is not being used for this particular endeavor.
- Two forms of identification, such as a passport or driver’s license number and expiration date.
- Documents that prove you are authorized to do business in the state where your company was formed. For example, if you registered your LLC in California but want to file a DBA in New York, you’d need to provide proof that you have a Certificate of Good Standing from California and a Certificate of Status from New York.
Legal Name vs. Brand Name
An important difference between a trading name and a trademark is that a trading name is the brand name by which other businesses or individuals identify you. On the other hand, a trademark is not exclusively tied to a person or company-it’s legal term for a specific word, phrase, image, or design used in connection with certain goods and services.
After Naming Your LLC
Once you’ve chosen your company name, please fill out the necessary forms with your state’s Secretary of State (or Federal Government) and file them along with any additional fees.
Having an LLC name that is different from the LLC’s Legal name does not stop you from using your legal name as the designated owner of the company. It only changes what other companies can call you, but it has no bearing on any forms or paperwork filed with the state.
This is simply a business decision for some people who do not want their competitors to know how to reach them or who they are working with at any given time.
Purchasing a Domain Name
Before you begin naming your LLC, it is important to note that any domain names under the sun are not available. Many individuals and business owners alike purchase what they believe to be their company’s perfect website address only to find out that someone has already made a name reservation said domain name in hopes that it will later increase in value.
- It may prove challenging, but try expanding or changing your search term with no spaces between words to discover common misspellings people often use. For example, a search for LLCs would bring up a result from llcregister.com, which provides links to all 50 states’ Secretary of State websites along with information about why a trading name or assumed name might be necessary.
- When buying your domain name, make sure to read your contract carefully.
- Many companies will purchase the rights to this name but fail to tell you that they are not refundable or transferable once they are purchased. The company has now legally become the owner of the named address, and you cannot regain ownership unless you repurchase it for an often exorbitant fee.
- Make sure all links, including social media sites, point directly back to your official website rather than to outside pages and accounts, which could later be taken down and leave visitors on a dead end on your site. If this happens, potential customers who may have been looking for information or updates regarding your company could immediately lose interest and stop visiting altogether.
8 Mistakes to Avoid When Naming Your Business
Mistake #1: Getting the “committee” involved in your decision
There will definitely be an individual on your committee who is more into this than everyone else, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be you.
The reason for having a committee in the first place is so that people can balance out each other’s shortcomings and give their own points of view without jeopardizing relationships or causing too much tension.
Mistake #2: Employing the “train wreck” method of creating a name
You have a list of your favorite five words or phrases; throw them all into one name, and voila!
You just made yourself a terrible company name. Be sure to proofread everything you’re putting together multiple times before presenting it as an official option.
Mistake #3: Using words so plain they’ll never stand out in a crowd
Your name is a calling card for where people can find you. Put some effort into making sure your name isn’t something that people will forget the second their eyes leave it.
Mistake #4: Taking the atlas approach and using a map to name your company.
So you’ve come up with a name for your company that’s based on where it is or where you used to live. The downside of this method is that everyone who hears the name will conjure images of where they are instead of where you’re located.
Mistake #5: Turning your name into a cliche
If your name is unique, you can use alliteration to enhance it and create a memorable phrase.
However, if the only reason you used thematic words or phrases was to make yourself sound fancier than you really are, think again about how many times people will want to repeat that same combination of words.
Mistake #6: Making your business name so obscure, customers will never know what it means
If your customers aren’t interested in learning what your business name means, they’re not going to stick around for very long.
Make sure that the meaning of your company’s name is something that customers will find both relevant and valuable.
Mistake #7: Taking the Campbell’s soup approach to selecting a name.
You probably won’t be shocked to learn that most food products (especially canned ones) are named after the company’s founder.
For example, Elmer Doolittle likes the name “Doolittle Cookies” for his new bakery because it has a nice ring to it; however, this would be a poor choice of names since there are already two other bakeries with the same or similar names (including one with six locations throughout New England).
Mistake #8: Choosing the wrong name and then refusing to change it.
It’s not necessarily a bad idea to have a backup name ready in case your first choice is already being used.
However, if you’ve gone as far as to sign contracts and lease an office space (or rent out a fleet of delivery trucks), it might be too late to switch over without incurring high costs.
The last thing you need is for the wrong company information or contact details to show up on your website or marketing materials.
Should I name my LLC after myself?
Your name is not a brand. You don’t want your customers to think that they’re just buying another product from the person down the street, like their neighbor Bob’s Fudge Shop.
What about incorporating an acronym into my business name?
While it may be harder to come up with something memorable and original, you can definitely still choose a name based on what it means to you and where you see your company going in the future.
How can I create a positive first impression when naming my LLC?
You should pick a company name that immediately draws people in and creates positive associations without having to explain yourself or defend why your choice was a good one.
This will give people an incentive to visit your website or check out your work.
What if I need to change my LLC name?
You should only change your company’s name if you’re filing for an LLC, Corporation, or other business structure that requires extra paperwork.
If you want to launch a website with the dot-com version of your new business name, feel free to do so without changing the legal documentation.
How can I come up with an awesome company name on my own?
Brainstorming is great, but don’t be afraid to ask friends and family members for help either. Their first impressions might differ from yours because they aren’t as emotionally attached to your business yet.
Just make sure that you are open-minded regarding second opinions since most people will never understand your business as you do.
How do I add my LLC to my business name?
If you’re incorporating a standalone letter into your business name, put a space between the two names – for example, Bridgeport Design.
If you have a full word that goes in front of your company’s name – such as “The” or “Inc.” – put both words together without spaces.
You can also use an en dash to connect them if they are two separate words – for example, The Clever Press-Ink Divas LLC.
Does your LLC name have to match your business name?
No, but it’s definitely easier if they do. If you’re doing business under an assumed name (also known as a trading name), the process is even faster and easier because you won’t need to file any extra paperwork or undergo any other procedures whatsoever.
Rolling out your brand-new LLC without getting sued!
Your company name isn’t like a limited edition handbag; there aren’t thousands of people who would be upset if they found out that another company was using the same one.
However, you should make sure that your employees (especially those who interact with customers on social media) understand this all the same.
What if I’ve already started promoting my new LLC?
Unfortunately, you’ll have to go through the process of filing a DBA. Admittedly, it’s not a super difficult or expensive task, but it will still take some time to complete.
How can I find out if my LLC name is already taken?
You can use West Law or EquiSearch to do a free search – plug in your company name and see what comes up!
If you’re planning on incorporating an acronym into your business name, try using Google instead. It might be faster and less expensive than hiring a private investigator.
Forming an LLC starts with its naming. You have a lot of options, but only one will be the perfect fit.
Incorporating an acronym into your company name is a great way to ensure that your business stands out from the rest – as long as people can remember what it means.
The best thing you can do is come up with a list of possible names and start researching each one. Once you’ve narrowed down the shortlist to three or four potential names, ask yourself if they’re memorable enough to become a household name. If not, go back and try again until something clicks!