How to Register a Business Name in California

Register a Business Name in California

Selecting a business name represents a foundational step when launching a business in California. But between sole proprietorships, DBAs, limited liability companies, corporations, and other entity types, the naming and registration process can quickly become complex.

This guide explains in clear terms exactly how and when to register your business name in California. Proper name filing grants critical legal rights and credibility as you scale.

Read on for clarity to help you file the right paperwork from day one.

Step 1: Determine If You Need to Register Your Business Name

Contrary to popular belief, you may not have to formally register all business names with the California Secretary of State.

Sole proprietorships simply using the surname of the individual owner don’t require state filing. For example, Bob Wilkes could operate “Wilkes Consulting” without extra paperwork.

The key distinction lies in the sole proprietor using their full legal surname. For example, “Legacy Consulting” would require registering since it doesn’t include Bob’s last name. Additionally, any name implying a partnership, such as “Wilkes & Associates Consulting,” would also mandate registration.

Additionally, Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) and Corporations are required to register their business name with the state.

Name registration grants legal rights and legitimacy. Formally filing your business name specifically allows you to:

  • Protect it legally so no one else can register that name later on.
  • Open dedicated business bank accounts and apply for licenses.
  • Appear credible in the eyes of customers, vendors, and partners for formal agreements.

Properly establishing your business name with the state grants exclusive branding rights while conveying professional legitimacy as you scale operations.

Step 2: Check Business Name Availability

Before anything else, you must ensure your desired company name isn’t already claimed in California. Start by searching the Secretary of State business database. This dashboard lets you search corporation, limited liability company, and limited partnership names across the state registry.

Keep in mind that this search does not explore potential conflicts against existing trademarks, service marks, or fictitious business name filings with county clerk offices.

Additionally, the online Business Search tool offers an initial check but does not constitute official confirmation that your proposed name is available for registration in California.

Step 3: Secure Your Chosen Name with Advance Reservation, if Needed

Once you verify an available business name, consider reserving it with the state for extra protection.

California enables applicants to reserve entity names on record for 60 days via the online portal. This places a temporary hold so you can get your legal affairs in order before formally registering your business.

Step 4: Register Your Business Name

Option 1: File a Fictitious Business Name Statement

If you will conduct business using a name different from your legal surname or already registered incorporation name, filing a DBA is required.

DBAs, short for “Doing Business As,” allow the public use of an alternative trade name that links back to the legal ownership. For example, John Smith could operate a floral shop called “Petal Pushers,” or his LLC “Smith Industries” could expand into car repair under “Premier Auto Garage.”

To properly file a DBA in California:

  1. Think of a name that does not duplicate existing businesses in that county
  2. Complete the county-issued Fictitious Business Name (FBN) Statement paperwork with ownership/operation specifics
  3. Submit your FBN filing along with fees on your county clerk’s website or office
  4. Publish the new DBA name registration in a local newspaper to make public

Staying up to date on renewal filings keeps your DBA authorization active for continual smooth use. Once your name clears initial registration, stay diligent in keeping your status. Fictitious business names expire after only 5 years if not renewed on time.

Option 2: Forming an LLC, Corporation, or Limited Partnership

Forming incorporated entities like corporations, LLCs, and limited partnerships require state-approved name registration. As part of submitting formation documents like Articles of Incorporation/Organization, you must put forth a business name distinguishable from other active registrations while not misleading the public.

If forming an LLC or corporation, ensure your proposed name clearly communicates the entity structure through specific abbreviations and designators.

For LLCs, acceptable identifiers signaling limited liability status include:

  • LLC
  • L.L.C.
  • Ltd Liability Co
  • Limited Liability Company
  • Ltd.

Similarly, corporations registering names must incorporate terms like:

  • Corporation
  • Incorporated
  • Inc.
  • Corp.

Once your proposed unique entity name clears Secretary of State approval, it becomes officially registered upon approval of your full formation paperwork and fees. This grants exclusive name rights and aligns the branding to that formal business structure.

Nuances around properly structuring, forming, and registering an incorporated business can get complex for entrepreneurs focused on operations. That’s where advice from a business attorney proves very valuable.

At TONG LAW, our legal team guides you in forming your business entity and registering your name. Consider scheduling a consultation so we can help ensure you establish your business properly from the start.

Should You Trademark Your Business Name?

Registering your name with the Secretary of State provides important rights, but you may be wondering whether to apply for additional trademark protection. This further shields your business identity and brand on a federal level.

Pursuing a registered trademark can prove wise alongside state business name protections. Key benefits of trademarks include:

  • Preventing competitors in your industry from utilizing confusingly similar naming
  • Enabling legal recourse if another business illegally infringes your brand
  • Increasing the potential value of your company identity as an asset

However, trademarking your business name does involve extensive legal processes and maintaining renewals. Our business law attorneys guide businesses in determining the best strategies for protecting intellectual property.

We evaluate if pursuing trademarks aligns with your budget and goals and then handle all aspects of applications and renewals. Our experience allows you to focus on customers while relying on our counsel.

Allow Us to Guide Your Business Name and Entity Registration

At TONG LAW, our experienced business lawyers consider all angles when counseling ventures on foundational decisions like selecting and clearing the proper business name, choosing the ideal entity type, and filing formation documents.

If you have questions on where to start or want customized guidance on registering an entity and protecting your business identity, don’t try to do so alone. Contact us today.

Author Bio

Vincent Tong

Vincent Tong is the CEO and Managing Partner of TONG LAW, a business and employment law firm located in Oakland, CA. Vincent is a fierce advocate for employees facing discrimination and wrongful termination. With several successful jury trial victories and favorable settlements, he has earned a strong reputation for delivering exceptional results for his clients.

In addition, Vincent provides invaluable counsel to businesses, guiding them on critical matters such as formation and governance, regulatory compliance, and protection of intellectual property assets. His depth of experience allows him to anticipate risks, devise strategies to avoid legal pitfalls, and empower clients to pursue their goals confidently.

Vincent currently serves as the 2021 President of the Board of Directors for the Alameda County Bar Association and sits on the Executive Board for the California Employment Lawyers Association. Recognized for outstanding skills and client dedication, he has consecutively earned the Super Lawyers’ Rising Star honor since 2015, reserved for the top 2.5% of attorneys. He also received the Distinguished Service Award for New Attorney from the Alameda County Bar Association in 2016. He is licensed to practice before all California state courts and the United States District Court for the Northern and Central Districts of California.

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