A business’s formal name is that of the person, people or entity that own it. When you want to operate under another name, such as one that more creatively describes your products or services, you may need to file an application for a trade or assumed name. Not all states require this registration, but it’s a good idea to do so to distinguish your business from others and to protect yourself.
Come up with several potential names for your business. Consider how easy the names are to remember and how well they lend themselves to marketing in your area or any place you may expand in the future. Start with a list of three to five names.
Research the names you have shortlisted. Access a registry of businesses in your city, county or state. Many states maintain a database of registered trade names. Having a name the same as or very similar to an existing business name is not prohibited, provided you are a distinct owner and operate in a different area. However, for the sake of standing out from the crowd and avoiding confusion, it's best to choose a unique name. Also check whether a business has trademarked the name you want to use. A trademark is a legal protection for the owner of a particular brand, and others cannot legally use that name. Research registered trademarks online at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (see the Resource section for a link).
File a trade name application with the appropriate authority. These applications can go by other names in addition to trade name, including "assumed name," "fictitious name" and "doing business as." In addition, the authority that takes these applications varies by state. In some cases, you have to go to your secretary of state. In others, you may be required to file with the local court or tax assessor's office. The applications ask you to specify the requested trade name and to identify the owners and their contact information. Pay the application fee, and the office within six weeks researches the name and confers a trade name certificate on you if the application meets all its requirements. Business.gov lists the filing requirements of all 50 states (see the Reference section).
Consider applying for a trademark to get extra protection for your name. A trade name certificate from your local authority typically does not get checked against federal trademarks, just other registered names in the state. A trademark offers nationwide protection.
- Consider applying for a trademark to get extra protection for your name. A trade name certificate from your local authority typically does not get checked against federal trademarks, just other registered names in the state. A trademark offers nationwide protection.
Angela Ogunjimi has been a prize-winning writer and editor since 1994. She was a general assignment reporter at two newspapers and a business writer at two magazines. She writes on nutrition, obesity, diabetes and weight control for a project of the National Institutes of Health. Ogunjimi holds a master's degree in sociology from George Washington University and a bachelor's in journalism from New York University.