Getting your new business off the ground can be exhilarating. You’ve done all the calculations, tested your products or services, and are ready to introduce them to the world. There’s only one problem: You haven’t solidified your business name.
Choosing a business name is crucial for a new company. A business name can set the right first impression, tell consumers what you’re selling, and make or break your SEO rankings. However, the wrong name can take all your hard work and bury it deep in search results. Additionally, choosing a name already in use can be costly, incurring potential rebranding and legal expenses.
However, the critical task of naming your company shouldn’t keep you from going live. Our guide will share tips on naming your business and answer common questions about the process.
How to choose a business name
While choosing a business name might be exciting, it can also be overwhelming. Before getting attached to a name, think about how you will market your business under that name and how your customers will perceive the name. It’s also crucial to determine if the name is available for use in your state and if you can use the name in your website URL and on social media.
Here are some factors to consider when choosing a business name.
1. Shoot for a business name that’s catchy but not over the top.
Business names that are hard to pronounce or spell can be detrimental to a new business. Instead, choose a name that is catchy, short and straight to the point.
Whether your business is primarily a brick-and-mortar or e-commerce store, new businesses often use a word-of-mouth marketing strategy, especially in the beginning. Choosing an easy-to-remember name is crucial for spreading the word about your business.
2. Optimize your business name for the web and social media.
You’ll want to make your business website and social media presence easy for customers to find. The more time it takes for consumers to find your business online, the less interested they’ll be in making a purchase, engaging with your business, or even making an effort to follow it on social media. [Related article: 6 Tips to Improve Your Social Media Presence]
Before registering your business, determine if its corresponding or simplified domain name and social media handles are available. If you have to resort to a long name or a hard-to-remember acronym to make it work, consider choosing a different name.
3. Consider branding when choosing a business name.
With a general business name, you run the risk of being unable to trademark it as your intellectual property. Trademark protection is essential in a competitive market. Also, be cautious about choosing a location-based name. For example, “New York City Appliances” won’t qualify for trademark protection, and will be limiting if you expand to other regions. [Avoid these common intellectual property mistakes in your startup.]
Choose a name that describes what is unique about your brand. For example, you may offer a service that none of your other competitors provide – or provide well.
Tip: You can also tie your branding to your top-notch customer service, diverse product line or ideal customer base.
How to ensure the business name isn’t already taken
Even if you’re not ready to form an entity, it’s very common for new businesses to reserve a name or register under a trade name or DBA. This step is a sign of commitment and can help get the ball rolling while you’re still forming your business plan. Besides, why go to all the trouble of choosing a business name only to find out it’s already taken when you register?
Follow your state’s naming guidelines (often found on your state’s business filings website) to prevent legal issues, and consult your state’s secretary of state website to search for registered business names already in use.
Once you reserve or register your business name with your state, use the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) to cross-check any filed trademarks or patents that may conflict with your business name. TESS will also help you choose a name that’s not too close to a competitor’s name in a similar geographic area.
FYI: A Google search won’t cut it for checking if a business name is available. To prevent rebranding costs or trademark infringements, you need to consult your county clerk’s office, state filing office, and TESS.
Why choosing the right name for your business is critical
Starting a new business isn’t easy. With new startups popping up daily, you’ll need to choose a memorable business name with a positive spin. Unfortunately, your business venture may be short-lived if your name doesn’t live up to the hype.
Choosing a name that is too general can be confusing to consumers and make expanding to new geographic locations difficult. Plus, industry-specific names can be difficult and expensive to market online due to competitive keywords. Use software like SEMRush for keyword advertising cost estimates, and consult social media marketing tools like BuzzSumo to discover popular social hashtags.
Business name search FAQs
What is my business’s ‘legal name’?
Your business’s legal name is the official name of the sole person or entity that owns the business. For example, if you are the sole proprietor of your business, your business’s legal name is your full name. If your business is a partnership, the written partnership’s name is the business’s legal name.
If your business is a limited partnership, LLC or corporation, the business’s legal name is the name you registered with your state filing office.
Your business’s legal name is required on all government forms. You’ll also need it to apply for a federal Employer Identification Number.
Where can I complete a free business name search?
Specific websites are dedicated to helping you complete a free business name search. For example, the Northwest Registered Agent website offers a free business name search. It’s organized by state and includes search tips, required forms, and even direct contact numbers if you have any questions.
What should I consider when choosing my business name?
Choosing a business name is not a decision that should be taken lightly. A business name will represent your products or services and speak for you as the business owner.
Use several avenues to produce the perfect business name, such as browsing the internet and industry publications, as well as brainstorming with friends and co-workers. Consider the following questions before choosing the final name:
- Is the business name available in my state?
- Can my business name receive trademark protection?
- Is my business name accessible by domain and social media handles?
- Should I register my business name as a limited partnership, LLC or corporation?
What is a fictitious business name?
A fictitious business name, also known as an “assumed business name,” “trade name” or “DBA,” is created when the business takes on a different name from its legal name. For example, if Sally Smith’s sole proprietorship is Scoops Ice Cream, “Scoops Ice Cream” is a fictitious business name since it does not contain Sally’s last name, Smith.
DBA business names must register with the appropriate government agency, such as your local county clerk’s office. Additionally, new business owners must search DBA names before registering their business to prevent duplicate or similar names geographically.
Can I just add Inc. or LLC to my business name?
No, you can’t just add “Inc.,” “LLC,” or any other mark to your business name. To add these marks, you must incorporate your business according to your state’s specific rules, and you may only do so after approval of your documents.