Choosing a name for your limited liability company (LLC) can be one of the fun parts of starting a business. Perhaps you’ve had a name in mind for a while, or you’re still brainstorming with a few options on the table.
Wherever you are in the process of forming an LLC, remember: your name can influence a customer’s first impression of your brand, and set you apart from the competition.
Your business entity name can also protect you and your business at the state and federal levels. You will need to register your name with the state government, which will ensure that your business name is unique and that another business owner can’t use the same name. (Sometimes, imitation isn’t the highest form of flattery.)
Here are key things to keep in mind when naming your business.
How to choose an LLC name
Picking a unique and memorable name for your LLC can make your small business stand out from the pack and can help customers find your products or services. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a name for your LLC.
It must be unique. Legally, the name of your LLC can’t be the same as another business entity registered in your state or the same as a trademarked phrase. State databases check only whether the LLC name is available in your own state, but do not check whether the name is trademarked.
To see if your desired business name is still up for grabs both in your state and that it isn’t trademarked, conduct an LLC name search via your local secretary of state office and then do a trademark search at the United States Patent and Trademark Office site.
It must include the entity type. When written in full, your LLC name also has to include the words “Limited Liability Company” or the initials “LLC.”
It must not mislead. There are some legally enshrined business terms, words, and abbreviations you cannot include in your business entity name. Exact rules vary state to state, but generally words and terms that indicate an entity type different from LLC, such as “Corporation” and “Corp.,” “Incorporated” and “Inc.,” and “Limited Partnership” are restricted.
Your LLC name cannot include words to indicate that your company is a governmental organization, such as “City,” “Township,” or “Federal.” You cannot include words that indicate your company is a bank or insurance agency, like “Bank” or “Insurer” or “Trust,” unless you are in that industry.
You also are not allowed to include words like “Legal” or “Medical” in your business name when you are not a lawyer or doctor (you will be asked to provide licenses).
Beyond the basic legal requirements, there are also other important considerations when it comes to the business name game. Keep these in mind:
Think about your domain. When naming your business, you’ll likely need a web presence—meaning that you’ll want a website with a domain name that either matches or represents your entity name. Check that the domain you want isn’t already in use or see how expensive it is to purchase.
Pick a name that allows you to grow. Be forward-looking when coming up with a name for your LLC. Choose words that evoke what you’re offering but aren’t so specific that they pigeonhole you if you decide to expand.
For example, if you’re operating solo, it can be fine to use your own name in your LLC, but if you scale and add to your staff, a business name like “Erika Jones Coaching LLC” may confuse clients who expect to interface with you and only you. Similarly, if you’re selling a product, you may want to keep your name more high level, rather than tied to the specific product you sell now, so that you have room to expand your offerings down the line.
Make it memorable. Not every business name needs to be quirky or highly unique to be successful. But it helps to be easy to remember. That can either mean that your business name very literally reflects what your business does or that it’s cute, clever, or catchy.
Alliteration or rhyming can make a name more memorable. Or, you might consider using a recognizable word from nature, literature, or history to create a cognitive association with something known.
LLC vs. DBA: When to create a fictitious name
If your business is a sole proprietorship or general partnership and you want to operate under a name different than your own, you’ll have to file a DBA (doing business as). (LLCs don’t have this requirement because registering a business name is part of the formation process.) Both DBAs and LLCs register your unique business name in your state so no one else can take that name. But only LLCs provide legal protection of your personal assets.
In most cases, if you incorporated your business as an LLC, you don’t also need a DBA. One reason you might also want a DBA is if you want to market your business using a different name than the name of your LLC.
For example, maybe you created the LLC using a generic name like AAA Building, but later decide you want to use a more memorable name, such as The Construction Brothers. A DBA would allow you to operate your business as The Construction Brothers, but retain the legal protection of your LLC. However, you would still want to use your LLC name on legal documents and bills or any business obligations.
If your state requires you to use “LLC” in your marketing materials, a DBA also allows you to drop the LLC. After all, the LLC can be a clunky addition to a snappy business name.
When to consider a trademark
While your business entity name protects you at the state level, trademarks protect you at the national level. You can trademark your business name, as well as the names of products or services you provide. Doing so prevents others in similar industries from selling their goods under the same names.
If you do a lot of business out of state, are considering expanding or franchising your business, or have a unique business name or brand you want to protect, you might want to consider trademarking your business name. If you’re a small service business, say a local painting company, whose customers are mostly or all local, trademarking likely doesn’t make sense. Your business name would already be protected in your state through your LLC.
Make sure to cross-check the names you’re cooking up to avoid a costly trademark infringement lawsuit. Again, you can check the official database at the Patent and Trademark Office.
What happens if your name is already taken?
If you start doing your homework and realize your name is already taken, you can tweak your name to make it work. Adding an “and” or “the” or some punctuation isn’t enough, but adding your first name or full name or a few different words might be enough to get the name approved.
Final thoughts on LLC names
Picking a name for your business is just one of many important company decisions you’ll have to make as you start a new venture. Spending time to ensure your name fits your business and sets you apart from the crowd will pay off in the future. If you’re at all concerned about the legal implications of choosing a name, consider engaging an attorney for advice.
Next steps for your LLC
See our general guide for how to start an LLC.