If you're using a fictitious business name in Orange County, California, or anywhere else in the U.S., you need to let the local government know. It's perfectly legal to do business under a fictitious name, provide you file a "doing business as" (DBA) statement first. That way, if there are complaints or lawsuits against your company, people know whom they're suing.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
First, search Orange County's list of DBAs to determine if the one you want is already in use. If it's available, download a DBA application form from the Clerk Recorder's website. Then, take the completed application to the Clerk Recorder's office along with the fee.
Why Do Business As?
There are multiple reasons a sole proprietor or partnership might want to use a fictitious business name.
- You have a common name such as Jane Smith or John Brown, and you want your business name to stand out.
- Calling your business "The Wrecking Crew" sounds cooler than "Fred Thornton Demolitions".
- A formal company name conveys more professionalism than plain "Joe Biggs".
- You have several lines of business, and you want to keep them separate. If you're an arborist, a landscaper and a gutter-cleaner, it's legal to have separate DBAs for each different brand.
- You want to reserve a domain name.
- Your corporation is launching a new line, and you'd rather keep it separate from your established brand.
California Fictitious Business Names
The definition of a fictitious business name is a matter of state law. In California, if the business name includes your legal surname, such as Johnson Landscaping or Jane Jenkins Plumbing, you don't have to file a DBA. A California DBA filing is necessary if:
- The name doesn't include your legal surname.
- It's a partnership, and the name doesn't include all the partners' surnames.
- The name implies there are unnamed partners, such as in "Chung and Associates," and "Katzen and Sons".
- Your business has incorporated, and you want to use a different name than the one you filed with your articles of incorporation.
You file a DBA request in the county where you have your principal place of business. After you secure it there, you can file in other counties.
Finding an Available Name
Opening your business as "Heavenly Wedding Gowns" when there's already a wedding dress business using that name won't do either of you any good. Before filing, use the Orange County Clerk Recorder's website to search for previous fictitious-name filings. Look to see if any of those in current use are close to the one you want.
When you incorporate a business, your state government cries "Halt!" if you use a name belonging to another corporation. With a DBA, that's not the case. If you register "Brujillo Botox" as a name and someone's already using it, Orange County is not going to stop you. The name search is for your benefit, to avoid lawsuits and disputes down the road.
By the same token, if you register a DBA and someone files the same name next year, Orange County won't intervene. There are steps you can take, though, such as trademarking the name to protect it.
Filing and Publishing
You can search for DBAs online and download the application, but you have to take the paperwork and your fees to the Clerk Recorder's office. The fee for filing one business name was $23 in early 2020.
Then comes the fictitious business name publication. You must publish your DBA intentions in an Orange County newspaper within 30 days of the filing date and then for three more weeks. It's up to you to prove to the county that you've followed this step, as newspapers don't always notify them.
The list of newspapers that meet the requirements for publication includes the Orange County Business Journal, the Orange County Register, the Anaheim Bulletin and Laguna Niguel News. You can pick whichever paper offers the best rates.
- FreshBooks: Doing Business As (DBA): What Is It and Is It Needed?
- Orange County Government: Starting a Business
- San Diego County Clerk: Fictitious Business Names
- Orange County Clerk Recorder: Fictitious Business Name
- Incfile: Understanding DBAs and How They Can Be Dangerous for Your Small Business
- Superior Court of California County of Orange: Newspapers of General Circulation
- Print the forms from your computer at home and fill them out there. It is a much faster process.
- Don't forget to double check the name you want.
- Do Not forget to file your name within 30 days in a newspaper for four weeks. If you don't, you will have to repeat the entire process over again!
Fraser Sherman has written about every aspect of business: how to start one, how to keep one in the black, the best business structure, the details of financial statements. He's also run a couple of small businesses of his own. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is frasersherman.com