Choosing your business name is one of the first steps you take when you’re building a brand. But before you can officially register a company, you need to make sure your business name is different from any other. The answer to the pressing question “Is my business name taken?” can only be found with a comprehensive company name search.
A unique business name isn’t just a legal requirement for every type of business entity. It’s also a smart way to help your brand stand out.
Even businesses operating as a sole proprietorship or partnership—both of which are named the business owner or owners’ names by default—often choose to file a “doing business as” (DBA) filing. This enables them to claim a unique, fictitious name (also known as a trade name) and create a more memorable brand.
With the importance of a great business name clear, we’ll dive into how you can ensure your desired name is available for use.
Is my business name taken?
Before we explain how to check if someone else is using your business name, we’ll explain what it means for your proposed business name to be “taken” in the first place.
Legally, no two registered names in any state can be exactly the same. Even if a company with your desired name is a different business entity than yours (like “Inc.” instead of “LLC”), you can’t register with that name.
In addition, if two companies fall into the same business category, they can’t have substantially similar names—including names that imply affiliation. For example, if there’s a grocery store in your state called “Big Food Market,” you will likely run into issues getting the proposed name “Big Food Mart” approved for your grocery store.
Business names are still considered substantially similar if the only difference is one spells out a number (“five”) and the other does not (“5”), or if one is plural and the other is singular. Using different articles—for example, “A Coffee Shop” versus “The Coffee Shop”—is also too similar to get approved.
While two business names in separate states can technically have the same name, you need to be careful before you finalize your choice. If the other company has registered its name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), using the name can get you into trademark infringement issues that are best to avoid.
To be safe, you must do a thorough search to ensure your business name is not legally taken.
Business name availability search tools
Once you have a list of potential names for your new business, your next step is to cross-check their availability with a few major databases.
Discovering if your desired business name is available is a completely free process, so we recommend staying away from any site that asks you to pay. Below, we’ll explain where you can find the free search tools you need to use.
State business name search
Every U.S. state has an official business name availability search tool that is readily available to the public. This digital tool is always run by the state agency responsible for business filings. Most commonly, your go-to agency will be your secretary of state or department of state, though sometimes it’s run by an alternate department (like the commerce, revenue, or licensing department) or a division of corporations.
As long as you know the right agency for your state, you should be able to find a free search tool on their website to help you figure out if your business name is taken. As examples of what search tools to look for, here are links to a few official state search tools in the United States:
- Arizona Corporation Commission
- California Secretary of State
- Illinois Secretary of State
- New York Department of State
- Pennsylvania Department of State
- Virginia Corporation Commission
In some states, the search tool is part of the business registration process, but it’ll usually be at the very beginning. That means you won’t have to worry about having to change your proposed name halfway through the process or after paying a filing fee.
To use your state’s search tool, you usually only need to provide your business entity type and your desired name, then cross-check with current records.
Some states do allow name reservations. If you’re not prepared for registration but found the perfect available name, you can contact your state agency or browse their website for this option.
In addition to searching through your state’s database, you’ll also want to double-check that your company name isn’t already a registered trademark.
To do so, you’ll need to check the USPTO trademark database for anything that looks similar to your proposed name. Just tap the search button and look through “word marks” that are similar, used for related products, and marked as live.
You must purchase an entire business to obtain its trademark, so there’s no easy workaround if your desired entity name is too similar to another.
Once you have a trademark-free name, we recommend registering it as a trade name with the USPTO to prevent any future claims of infringement. However, this is not required to register your business with your state.
With your state and federal search done, you know your business name is legally in the clear. However, it’s helpful to search the business name on Google before you call it a day.
Through a quick search, you’ll see what your potential customers would see if they looked up these names. Consider whether or not:
- There’s another business with your name in another state without trademark rights
- That business sells products or services that are similar to yours
- The search term is competitive
If you respond “yes” to any of these bullet points, you’ll want to think about how much this might impact your business and whether you want to pursue a different name.
You’ll also want to search Google Domains (or any other domain site) to see if your desired domain name is available. If not, take a look at pre-owned domain sites like Flippa to see if the domain name is for sale and at what price. Alternatively, you can find the domain owner and reach out directly to make an offer.
You may want to consider changing your business name if the domain name cannot be purchased and there are no professional alternatives. This is because your domain name will show up on all your company’s business cards, email addresses, marketing, and more. It will also determine how likely customers are to remember it and return.
Social media search
Finally, search for your business name on all major social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. This way, you’ll know if a professional, memorable username is available for your business page.
Social media marketing is becoming more important by the day, so don’t forget to search on the platforms your business doesn’t yet use. As the digital world changes, you may end up benefiting from the platform later.
If the trademark is available, you may be able to claim even a social media username that uses your business name. Social media platforms will usually hand off trademarked names if you can provide the proper documentation that you own them. Of course, this may only be the case if the current owner is in the United States, since trademarks do not extend overseas.
Make your business stand out
In the United States, your business needs a unique name so it can get registered and trademarked. However, as online marketing continues to rise, many business owners are also checking domains and social media before they deem a company name fully available.
Once you have your business name and start your registration process, you will need to outline the ins and outs of how your business will actually operate. To do so, read our guide on how to write a business plan.