Picking a name is one of the first steps in starting a business. It's also one of the most important because it will establish your company's identity. To ensure your identity is unique you should find out if your name is already taken. This will help avoid brand confusion and potential legal consequences down the road.
Check for Trademarks
Search the United States Patent and Trademark Office's Trademark Electronic Search System to see if your name is the same as or similar to one already trademarked by a company. Enter your proposed name and browse the results -- if there are any -- to see if there is a name similar to your desired name.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office warns that just because your results don't show the business name you searched for, it doesn't necessarily mean your desired name is not in use. If you plan to trademark your name, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office must perform its own search to determine that the name is available.
Search Public Companies
Search the Securities and Exchange Commission's EDGAR database to see if your desired name is being used by a publicly traded company. You can choose to search for companies beginning with your keyword or, for broader results, ones that simply contain your keyword. You can also narrow your search to the United States, another country, or globally.
Consult Your State Filing Office
If you plan to incorporate your business, you will need to check that your name hasn't been registered with your state filing office. The procedure for searching the state registry varies by state. Contact your state business authority to find out how to search its particular database. Note that you may be able to use a name even if it's registered with your state filing office. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, it may still be possible to use a registered name if you are selling different goods or services or operating in a different geographic area.
Consult with a lawyer specializing in intellectual property law before doing business under your desired name. Only a lawyer can properly advise you on whether or not you are legally free to use your desired business name.