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Small Business Tips

How to Register a Business Name

Manasa Reddigari

Coined a memorable name for your business? Chances are that another business owner thought of the same or a similar name. Herein lies the importance of registering a business name.

If you're not sure how to go about this, read on to learn how to register a business name.

What does it mean to register your trade name?

Registering a business name involves listing your trade name in a formal database. You can register business names at the state, county or city level in a names database. You can also trademark a business name at the federal level in the federal trademarks database.

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Why do you need to register a business name?

Business owners should consider registering their business name for a few reasons:

  • Your state, county or city may mandate business name registration. Whether you need to register and at what level depends on your business entity. It also depends on where you live. Let's take sole proprietors as an example. In Texas, they usually only need to register the name if using an assumed name. An assumed name is a trade name that is different from the owner's legal name.
  • You can keep other startups from operating under your name. Registering a business name is a way of reserving that name for your use. Let's say that a business founder wants to give his business the same name as yours. If your name is in a database, and he comes across it, he will know to select another name because yours is off limits. Otherwise, he might choose the same name. Over time, the duplicate names can cause confusion for customers or a legal conflict.
  • It helps establish your business in a formal way. Let's say you want to start a sole proprietorship. You usually don't need to register this business entity with the state to begin operations. Registering your name would still be of value in this case. Why? It would be your only chance to enter your company into an official state directory.

How to register a business name

The first step of registering a name is to find out whether you need to register and at what levels of government. You can find information on the website of the Secretary of State or the county or city clerk in your area.

Keep in mind, you may not need to form and register your business and separately in all cases. You register the name of a partnership, LLC or corporation as a part of business formation in most cases.

Then, proceed with business name registration at the appropriate levels. Here's how to register a business name at the state, local and federal level:

  • Check the business names database for your state to ensure the name you want is not in use. You can often find a searchable database on the Secretary of State website for your state. If the name is not in use, reserve a name with the Secretary of State as instructed on the website.
  • Verify that the business name is available in the database for your municipality. You can do this on the relevant county or city website. Then, reserve a name as instructed by the county or city clerk's office. If registering an assumed name, you'll need to fill out and submit a "doing business as" form. The form notifies the local government of your intent to operate under a fictitious name.
  • This level of registration applies when you want to trademark your business name. Trademark registration offers increased legal protection in the event of trademark infringement. Follow our guide on how to register a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

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