SBA Learning Center

Choosing Your Name

Choosing a business name can be difficult but it is one of the most important choices you'll make as an entrepreneur. Not only should you pick a name that suits your business, but you also need to ensure it can be legally used and protected for the future.

A common misunderstanding about business names is in terms of reserving and protecting a business name. It is not possible to reserve a business name completely or have exclusive use. A business name is recognized along with the type of products or services the business provides, not just its awesome name on it's own.

Understanding business names

Think of business names as being similar to personal names. The first or oldest Michael Johnson cannot claim exclusive use of that name. Even though he was the first one to use that name on his birth certificate, he can't make all the other Michael Johnson's change their names.

Likewise, the first Johnson's Restaurant can't prevent all other Johnson Restaurants from using that same name. McDonald's Fast Food can't make McDonald's Convenience Store change its name because they are in different types of businesses. McDonald's Convenience Store in Los Angeles can't sue McDonald's Convenience Store in New York since they are operating in different regions.

However, just like you have rights to your own identity, so does your business. One Michael Johnson can sue another Michael Johnson for using his identity or intentionally confusing people. McDonald's Fast Food can sue just about anyone trying to use the McDonald's name for a business selling fast food.

A good rule of thumb is to determine if customers would mistaken who they are purchasing from because of the name that is represented.

Tips For Naming Your Business

Several businesses start out as freelancers or solo operations. In those cases, it's easy to fall back on your own name as your business name. While there's nothing wrong with that, it does make it tougher to present a professional image and build brand awareness.

Here are some points to consider as you choose a name:

  • How will your name look? As part of a logo, on a sign or business card, on the web.
  • Does it identify what your business does? Does it reflect your business personality and culture?
  • Does it appeal to your market? Is your name too corporate or not corporate enough?
  • Is your name unique? Make sure to choose a name that hasn't been claimed by others. A quick web search and domain name search will let you know of any existing use.

Check for Trademarks

Before you choose a name, use the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's trademark search tool to see if a similar name is trademarked. You don't want to spend time and money building around a company name just to find out you can't use it.

Incorporating Your Business Name

If you are planning to incorporate your business, you'll need to contact your state filing office to check if your business name has already been claimed. If you find a business operating under your desired name, you may still be able to use it, if your business and the existing business offer different products/services or are located in different regions.

Website Availability

Your business name needs to be unique and available if you want to claim a website address or domain. It would also help to include key words that reflect what your business does. Find out if your business name has been claimed online by doing a simple web search to see if anyone is already using that name.

You will also need to check whether a domain, or website address, is available. You can do this using the WHOIS database of domain names. If it is available, be sure to register it right away. The SBA Guide explains how to search for and register your domain name, for example

Your Social Media Identity

It's a good idea to claim your social media name early in the naming process even if you are not sure which sites you intend to use. Popular social media sites for businesses include Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. A name for your Facebook page can be set up and changed, but you can only claim a vanity URL or custom URL once you have 25 fans or "likes." This custom URL name must be unique or not used by anyone else.

Register Your New Business Name

Registering your business name involves a process known as registering a "Doing Business As (DBA)" name or trade name. This process shouldn't be confused with incorporation and it doesn't provide trademark protection. Registering your "Doing Business As" name is simply the process of letting your state government know that you are doing business as a name other than your personal name or the legal name of your partnership or corporation. If you are operating under your own name, then you can skip the process.

Learn about the requirements in your state and how to file in the Register With Your State section.

Apply for Trademark Protection

A trademark protects words, names, symbols, and logos that distinguishes your products and services from those of others. Your name is one of your most valuable business assets, so it's worth protecting. You can file for a trademark for less than $300. The SBA Guide will show you exactly how to file your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on your own; no attorney needed!