You must research available LLC names before establishing a limited liability company (LLC) to ensure the business name is unique. Names for LLCs, limited partnerships, and corporations must abide by the same criteria, which is that each name must be distinguishable from any on state record, and no business name may mislead the public in any way.

General Overview for Naming an LLC

When determining whether your preferred LLC name is available, check the name against other LLCs already registered in your state. In general, names are not checked against existing trademarks or service marks, nor are they checked against fictitious business names. Just be sure to brush up on your state's laws for more specific information.

In the state of California, for example, an individual may check or reserve a proposed name for up to 60 days. Whether you're starting an LLC, limited partnership, or corporation, perform a preliminary search with the California secretary of state using the online business search tool. The business search isn't a formal name selection, but it does help narrow down business name options. Laws regarding fictitious business names may be found in section 17900 of the California Business and Professions Code. Other states will have similar rules in place.

Understanding Trademark Law

It's important to understand the basics of trademark law so you don't encounter issues with your business name. Trademarks exist to keep a business owner from choosing a name that can be confused with someone else's business. If you ignore the law and choose a similar name to a competing business, that business owner may pursue you for trademark infringement. If that happens, you may be required to pay damages and change your business name anyway.

As a general rule, it's always best to avoid trademark infringement by researching your proposed LLC name as thoroughly as possible. Use all resources available to you to find a name that doesn't compete with any existing business.

Tips for Naming Your LLC

The first step in naming your LLC is to brainstorm a list. Come up with at least five or six potential names so you can have a few fallbacks in case the one you prefer is already taken. Don't be too quick to judge your brainstorming list. Write down as many ideas as possible. You may be surprised at what names you come up with this way.

After brainstorming, narrow down the list by reviewing each one with a critical eye. Spend time considering each name individually. If a name doesn't feel quite right, cross it off the list. When you're finished, you want at least a few good names left.

There are a few things to consider when reviewing business names:

  • Ask yourself if the name is memorable. Will it stand out in people's minds?
  • Is your business name original? Is there potential for branding?
  • Is there a good meaning behind the name? Does it express what kinds of goods or services you offer? This tip isn't mandatory, but it is a good rule of thumb to consider when coming up with a business name.
  • Does your name include the required keywords or phrases as outlined by state laws? For instance, limited liability companies must include Limited Liability Company, LLC, or L.L.C. at the end of the business name. Remember, you cannot use restricted words such as inc. for an LLC.
  • Does the name sound suitable for online advertising? Is there a corresponding domain name available? What about social media usernames?

Once you have your finalized list of business name ideas, check for LLC name availability. You can do this by searching your state's online database for current business registrations. Also, be sure to check trademarks to ensure you aren't violating an existing one. Search each name on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's database. The last thing you want to do is run into trademark issues when trying to get your LLC off the ground.

Dealing With Similar LLC Names

There's one rule you should always apply if the business name you want is similar to another in the business: Avoid it. This is especially true if the competing business is a major player in your industry. The bigger the company is, the more likely it will have the resources to sue you for trademark infringement.

There are, however, instances where you can use an existing name as long as it isn't famous. For example, if a company sells a drastically different product than you or is located in another region, you may be able to register the same name.

If you need help with searching available LLC names, you can post your job on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.