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How to choose a name for your business

Your business will need a name.

Think carefully about it, because your business's name will help frame how the world sees it. Imagine how it will sound when spoken, how it will look in emails or on signs, and what it might mean when others hear it.

Choose a name that you are completely comfortable with. It could be simply your own name, or your own name with an identifier at the end (e.g., Hailey Payton Research), or a name that does not identify you at all.

How to begin

Your name will also depend to some extent on what type of business structure you choose—sole proprietorship, partnership, C corporation, S corporation, or limited liability corporation.

Choosing a business structure may require the help of an advisor, as there are intricacies and advantages to each one that are not always apparent on the surface.

Before settling on a name, make sure it doesn't already exist. Check all registered and unregistered trademark names. Use these resources:

  • Your state filing office if your business is a corporation, LLC, or limited partnership. This is usually called the Secretary of State's office.

  • A simple Internet search

  • Your county clerk

  • Thomas Register

  • The US Patent and Trademark Office database

If a name similar to your desired name is already in use, it may still be usable. However, your business itself would have to be substantially different from the existing one, such as in location or the service it offers.

In this Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, photo Pete Mulvihill poses for a photo while standing outside at his Browser Books store that he recently opened in San Francisco. Mulvihill has felt optimistic enough about being an independent bookseller that he bought a third store within the past two months. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Pete Mulvihill poses for a photo while standing outside at his Browser Books store that he recently opened in San Francisco. (Photo: AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Register your business name

Not all business names need to be registered. If you use your full name as part of your business name, you won't need to register it. For example, Carolyn Smith Medical Writing would not need to be registered.

But if your business does not use your full name, you must register it as a fictitious (or "assumed") name. The more well-known term in most states is DBA, or "doing business as." You can the name registered at a county clerk's office or a state-level office.

There are advantages to using a registered name. For one, you may have trouble opening up a bank account without one. Also, you have greater legal power with one, including stronger ability to enforce contracts. Third, it makes it easier for the public to contact you (and file a complaint or lawsuit, too).

To begin the process, contact your county clerk.

Dive deeper: How to become an independent contractor

This content was created in partnership with the Financial Fitness Group, a leading e-learning provider of FINRA compliant financial wellness solutions that help improve financial literacy.

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