Coming up with a business name is a normal part of starting a new commercial enterprise. Some people choose not to do so, doing business by their legal names instead. But most companies have business names separate from the names of legal owners. It is better for business and branding that way.
How do you come up with a business name? Some people use tools like TRUiC’s free, online business name generator. Others pay branding experts to come up with names, logos, etc. Still others just brainstorm until they come up with something they like. But once a company name is established, then what?
TRUiC says most U.S. companies register their business names. There are four options for doing so, with the last one usually being added to one of the first three. The options are:
1. Filing a DBA
A ‘doing business as’ (DBA) filing is essentially a local registration done at the county level. When you file a DBA, you are letting the county know that you intend to do business under a name other than your legal name. Your legal name might be John Smith. However, you want to operate your roofing company under the name ‘Hot Tar Roofing’. You would register Hot Tar Roofing as your business name.
A DBA doesn’t provide any legal protection, at least in a direct sense. Filing a DBA would not prevent someone else from using the same name outside of your county. However, if another company ever tried to force you to stop using the name, the date your DBA was filed could work in your favor, if you filed first.
2. Entity Registration
Standalone DBAs are almost always filed by sole proprietors running family businesses. A business owner choosing to create a limited partnership (LP), limited liability corporation (LLC), or S-corporation would have to register that entity with the state. Local registration would be insufficient.
According to the Small Business Administration (SBA) registering your business as a legal entity offers some protection for your company name. The same name cannot be used by another company in the state as long as your registration remains valid. Also note that some states require that legal entity names somehow reflect the nature of the business to which they are registered.
3. Trademarking the Name
In addition to filing a DBA or registering a business entity, you can choose to trademark your business name. Trademarking prevents any other entity in the same or a similar industry from using the name anywhere in the United States. The downside to trademarking is that you are almost guaranteed to be involved in litigation at some point. Trademark disputes are fairly common in the U.S.
4. Registering a Domain Name
Last but not least is using your company name to register a domain name. Brand experts tend to suggest doing so when possible. Unfortunately, some business names either do not translate well into domain names or conflict with existing domains. That is why they suggest running a domain name search before officially registering a business name.
Making sure there are no conflicts guarantees that you can register a domain name that is identical to your business name. In turn, this makes it easier for customers to find your company online.
Coming up with a business name is common practice for entrepreneurs. What they do with the name after they have it is up for grabs. Registering it in some way, shape, or form is standard practice. Registration establishes a recognizable business name and, in some cases, offers legal protection.