Choosing a business name is critical if you are ready to incorporate your business.

If you've got your heart set on a particular name, one of the most important things you can start with is to run a check before it's too late, to find out if your business name is already being used. This will help you avoid creating assets and spending money branding a name you can't obtain and determine whether you need to file a business name reservation.

How to Check Business Name Availability

Go to the “Online Business Services” page and scroll to the list entitled “File a New Business or Nonprofit." Once you are there, click on the make-up your organization will be established as and listed under.

Depending on what type of structure you choose, you may not be required to respond to questions pertaining to the organization’s status as a nonprofit or its professional status.

Next, to validate the title you want for the organization and confirm that it is indeed available, you will need to write the name in the search field. After you search, choose the unit designation from the menu on the right. Ensure that you cross check the name of the organization before you continue.

Please note that it is extremely vital to select the business name from the menu instead of writing it into the field.

The database will mechanically insert the default end to your organization name by reference your business structure if the choice is not made from the drop down menu.

If an article description is incorporated in the title of an “Assume Name,” at least one possessor of the official title must have an equal or corresponding article designation in the title.

However, there are exceptions to this. For example: “Company,” “Co,” or “Companies” when used by itself in the name and not as part of a longer entity description.

Only use these deviations of terms such as Cooperative’ or ‘Coop’ in the “Assumed name” if your organization is listed as cooperative or you are operating the business in a cooperative model and offering rebates of earnings to any associates or members of the organization.

Click on the “Search” in the system after you write the title of the desired organization and the search engine will tell you if the organization title is obtainable or if it is already taken. The title and filing digits of the clashing organizations, which are in the database, will be given to you if the name you are searching for is not available.

Trademark Law

To be sure that you do not violate any laws when registering your organization’s name, it is important that you have an elementary understanding of the law as it applies to trademarks.

In general, trademarks are in place to prevent a business from using a business name that is likely to be confused with a competing business.

If the name that you pick for your organization is too alike to the title of another organization, even if it is not exactly the same, that organization could allege that you breached the rights of their trademark.

If this happens, you could be required to change the name of your business, and you even be ordered to pay damages.

Name Searching

To avoid any complications, it is important to complete a name search of all the businesses that are in competition with yours. However, this is not simple. Although it would be great if there was a site that you could utilize to see all trademarked names currently registered, this is unfortunately not available.

In the United States, there are both registered and unregistered trademarks, because an organization can even create a trademark simply by using the title of their organization. Thus, one must be systematic in finding all the names attached to business because this includes both unregistered and registered trademarks.

Basic Screening

Start with a basic screening of the trademarks currently being used. Complete a simple search before doing an intensive search of all registered and unregistered names to decide if you want to continue.

One way to do a basic screening is to type in the desired name of your organization in any online search engine (such as Google or Bing) and scan through what comes up.

Completing a simple search like this allows you to efficiently see if another organization already exists with the name you desire. It will also allow you to see any organizations and businesses that have a similar name and are selling the same products.

This is quick and easy and will help you determine the options you have in registering your trademark.

Fictitious Name Databases

There is a database of fictitious names maintained by the country and state governments where you are. It is important to scan through this database to see if a similar name exists.

This step perfect following your search on a search engine such as Google. It is common practice for small businesses to register a fictitious name but never registering the name as a trademark or even adding it to an online database.

Unfortunately, if you discover that a name is being used, or is extremely close to the name you desire for your business, you must reconsider using that name.

Databases Containing Names of Corporations, LLCs, and Limited Partnerships

If the business will be operated as a corporation, LCC, or limited partnership, confirm with the state office to learn whether the name is being used.

If they say that the name is already in use, you must return to the start and brainstorm new names. Build off the work that you have already done, instead of starting from complete scratch.

Find Unregistered Business Names

Searching online is the ideal space to start searching for names of unregistered trademarks. Besides standard online search engines like Google, there are specific online databases which will help you find a registered or unregistered business trademark. 

One of these specific online databases is The Thomas Register. This website is hosts tens of thousands of trademarks which are from many different industries. Although it is one of the best sites online, unfortunately, it is not comprehensive. There is no such source that has all registered names, and you must use multiple sites.

Use as many search engines and databases as possible to ensure that your name is not already registered. Although it is time-consuming work up-front, this will ensure you to avoid any unnecessary legal trouble in the future.

Network Solutions offers one with an excellent virtual tool which helps you discover the obtainability of your desired organization name.

Going to the Network Solutions website will allow you to type in the desired organization name, in addition to different variants of that name. This will afford you insight into whether another business has taken or reserved that name or a variation of it.

However, please note, that if you find a desired name but someone else has already bought and registered a domain name you may not be able to use it in a commercial capacity.

Registered Trademarks

Lastly, when completing your search, confer the database of registered trademarks. This database is maintained by the United States federal government.

It is not as comprehensive as the other databases we have listed in this article; however, you should always do a quick check. The database is comprised of every trademark which has been registered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Not every business registers through this, which is why is not nearly comprehensive enough.

By checking this database, you will circumvent any chance that another business is claiming that you infringed on their trademark rights. If you do infringe on another business’s trademark, either with or without knowledge, you could have to face a legal battle. If you are found to have done it willfully, then the fines will be even higher.

To avoid all of this, simply complete a simple search on the database. It is quick and easy and could save you millions.

Similarly, complete the same check on your state’s registered trademarks database. Search in Google by typing your state name and “registered trademarks” to find the database.

This database will be home to smaller businesses and their trademarks. Often many small businesses never need to apply for federal trademark protection. It is likely that there are more registered here than on the national database.

Similarly, if you are found to have infringed on a business’s trademark rights in your state you could be charged. It is always better to check.

For those who plan to do business in other states, ensure that you are not infringing on other businesses, by checking the state databases for each and every state you plan to do business in.

Putting Your Search Results Together

If you feel that the title of your business is completely unique after searching through each database listed in this article, then you should feel comfortable using it.

However, if there is evidence which you have discover to suggest that the name has already been used, be wary of going forward with this name. It could cause unforeseen legal problems.

Times When You Cannot Use a Similar or Identical Name

There are many instances when you cannot use similar names. If the name you desire is identical to, or even slightly similar to, a name of a business that is large or a major competition within the same sector as your business does not use it.

It is highly likely that large businesses have the capacity to fight more legal battles. You could expect them to enforce their trademark rights on any business that they feel is beginning to encroach.

Even if you pronounce your business name differently than the competitors business name, if they are spelled similarly or the same then it could be infringement. Remember that federal trademarks are different than state trademarks, because they allow the business to be the sole user of the trademark name in each state in the United States.

There are only a handful of instances in which it is acceptable to take a name which is in use and registered. For instance, if the desired title is being used by an organization, but the organization is marketing or selling products which are extremely dissimilar that then that of your business, you will likely be allowed to utilize your desired name even if it is similar.

Similarly, the geographic locale is a factor that will allow you to register a matching name. For example, if the organization which has your desired title is located geographically far away from yours or reaches only a tiny population, this will make it harmless to register a similar name.

Always ask yourself the question: "will a customer be confused by your company and the other company having the same name?” If you were the customer and were unable to differentiate the companies by products, mission, or geography, it may be necessary to find another name to register.

For instance, if there was an organization titled “X-Y-Z" and it existed to sell chocolate in North Carolina, and you desired to start an organization entitled "X-Y-Z" in North Carolina that repaired computers, it would likely be acceptable.

Further, if you decided to open this business in Maine, that would of course be even more secure.

Registering Your Own Trademark

You will need to consider utilizing federal or state laws to protect the business name you have decided on, even though this is optional.

While it is not mandatory that you register your trademark to "own" a trademark, it is clear that it is beneficial. Most cases on trademarks, which are won in court, have a registered trademark. If you feel that you will likely have to take legal battles with competitors, you should highly consider registering.

State Name Check

Your business will be off to a great start legally if you run a state name check. While some options can be costly, there are many online, which are free. This will ensure you receive the name for your business that you desire.

Free State Name Check

Until your business name is officially approved and filed with the state, the name can still be secured by another business. Check for a free state name check online with a simple Google search with your state.

If you need help with your business name, you can post your legal need 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, Stripe, and Twilio.