How to Search for Available Business Names in California

by Fraser Sherman - Updated July 23, 2018
Check the availability of business names before registering your business.

Even if you come up with the perfect name for your California business, you may not be able to use it. California won't approve your selection if another business has already claimed a similar name. You can also end up in trouble if you pick a name that infringes on a business trademark. You'll need to make more than one California business name search to confirm your pick is available.

Tips

  • To search for corporate or LLC names in California, send a name availability inquiry letter to the Secretary of State's office. If you're using a fictitious business name, you'll have to research available names at the county level.

Make a California Corporation Search

If your start-up is a corporation, a limited liability company or a limited partnership, it will need a business name. California says you can't use the same name as an established company, or one that's so close it would confuse consumers. If you design your logo or business cards without researching availability, you can waste a lot of money.

If you haven't pinned down a name yet, you can make a preliminary search online at the California Secretary of State's website. This gives you an idea of what names are already in use. To check a specific name, you have to send in a name availability inquiry letter – as of 2018, email requests aren't an option. You can download the PDF template for the letter from the website.

Claim a DBA Name

Businesses have a legal name, but they can also have a fictitious, "doing business as" name. Suppose Jane Doe teaches music as a sole proprietor. If she wants to do business under anything but her own name – Jane's Music Classes, say – she has to file a DBA in the county where she works. The filing gives her a claim on that name, but only within the county. Some businesses file in multiple counties to protect the name's value. If you want to use a DBA, you'll have to ask your county government what's available. Each county sets its own rules for how to search for available names.

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Research Trademarks

Even if no other company has a conflicting name, it's possible a business has a conflicting trademark. Trademarks such as brand names and logos identify a particular product or service as coming from a particular business. If you call your business "Siri," for example, Apple might claim you're infringing on its trademarked voice-recognition software.

You can compare your picked name against existing trademarks by searching the Secretary of State's trademark registry. Deciding whether your name infringes on the mark is a tough call. You may need to contact an intellectual property attorney to figure it out.

About the Author

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.

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