A California business name search can be done simply and straightforwardly. However it is one of the first and one of the most important aspects of creating your California business.

In order to create a California LLC or corporation you will need to select a name for your business and also file a “DBA” (which stands for “doing business as”) in California.

You need to choose the business’ name with care. It is important for your brand as well as needs to follow California’s rules for business names. You should therefore perform for the desired name either a LLC name search or a corporation name search.

You need to look through the Secretary of State for California’s database in order to see if there’s a business with a name that is either close or the same as the one you are hoping to use.

If you discover there is a LLC that has the exact same name, then you are not able to use that name for your LLC. Your LLC name needs to be clearly distinct from current LLCs and therefore unlikely to confuse the general population.

There are several other possibilities for doing a California LLC name search

  • You may hope to discover details regarding a different California LLC, such as to perform service of process on them.
  • You may want to see another LLC’s current status.

If you perform a business search in California, you will be able to find other LLCs and retrieve the information that you want. The information that is retrievable includes registration, conversion, status, the registered agent’s name and address, entity structure, and other information.

You can go onto the Secretary of State for California’s website to use their simple search function that is available for public use.

You are able to look through a variety of different business types to see if there is an overlapping name. You can search limited partnerships, limited liability companies, limited liability partnerships, and corporations. You will be able to use the search function to search by either name or the entity’s registration number.

It is also important to point out that the California Secretary of State states that the name search function is not really meant to discover if business names are available in California or not. There is a separate process that the Secretary of State administers for those who wish to find if a proposed business name is available for use in California and that is not a part of the entity name and details search function. 

Search for Name Availability

If you want to see if your hoped-for California business name is currently available you will need to fill out a “Name Availability” inquiry letter.

The name availability letter will require several pieces of information in order to be processed. This information includes:

  • The name of the person requesting the determination.
  • The name of the business requesting the determination (if there is one).
  • The address, phone number, and fax number of the person requesting the determination.
  • The proposed business legal structure classification (ex. corporation, etc.).
  • The proposed name, and second as well as third possible options.

After completing the form you will need to send it to the California Secretary of State. Their address is:

1500 11th Street, 3rd Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814

Once you send the letter, you will need to wait for the Secretary of State’s confirmation.

It is important to not send in an inquiry letter to the Secretary of State without looking through and making sure to follow California’s naming rules and procedures for LLCs.

The California rules for LLC names are as follows, per Section 17701.08 of the California Code of Corporations:

  • The company’s name must have a variant of LLC at the end. Permissable variants are: “LLC”, “L.L.C.”, “Limited Liability Co.”, “Limited Liability Company”, “Ltd. Liability Co.”, or “Ltd. Liability Company.”
  • The proposed business name needs to not have certain restricted words (ex. bank, corporation, trustee, trust, incorporated, inc., etc.).
  • The proposed name is not able to give the impression that the LLC might be selling insurance or taking on risks for the purposes of insurance. It cannot therefore have a name that uses the words “insurer”, “insurance company”, or other words that might give that impression.

After determining if the name is available for use in California through a search and inquiry letter, then you will be able to reserve the name. After reserving it, it will be set aside for 60 days.

The next step after determining your business’ name and reserving it is to begin the process of incorporation the company. This will require documents such as articles of incorporation.

Your name will not be permanently finalized and confirm until you submit your business’ articles of incorporation and other necessary creation documents.

Until you complete your California business name search and it is confirmed upon your company’s formation, you need to ensure that you are not making large expenses dependent on the name (ex. signs, stationary, etc.), as these may later prove to be useless.

Search by Name

In conducting your California business name search through the Secretary of State’s website rather than the inquiry letter, you can search both by name and by entity number.

In searching by name, you need to first go to the Secretary of State’s name search website. After that, select what kind of business entity type you are conducting a name search for. Then proceed by typing in the name you are hoping to search for. Lastly, click “Search.”

After the search is finished, there will be shown a series of entities, if any, that are similar to the original name you entered as your search. The results are shown with their name as well as their registration number in California, the date their registration was filed, their current business status, and the information for their registered agent that receives service of process.

If you would like to see further details for a business in the results list, you can click the business’ name. Clicking will open a new web page that shows the business’ details.

The information shown on the business’ results page will be the following:

  • The name of the business.
  • The business’ registration number.
  • The date the business registered.
  • Their current status.
  • The business’ jurisdiction.
  • Their address.
  • Their registered agent.
  • The registered agent’s address.

In order to make sure that your results are accurate, you should be careful to avoid putting punctuation in the terms you are searching. For example, if the business or name that you are searching for has periods or punctuation that is after initials, do not include the periods and punctuation in your search. Rather, you should put the initials together without any spaces.

However, if the business name you are searching is structured so that it has initials that then have a period and a space after the initials, in typing the search term you should discard the periods in the name but not the spaces.

The way spaces, plurals, and punctuation are entered in the name search will significantly affect the name search results. As an example, if you enter a search for “X Y Z Business” you will have to keep the spaces in the name search in order to ensure a correct result. If you search for “XYZ Business” instead, you will not get the proper results for “X Y Z Business.”

The way plurals are used is also significant in the way the results are retrieved. If you are searching for LMN Productions, you will have to enter “LMN Productions” rather than a plural modified term such as “LMN Production” in order to retrieve the proper search results.

Be very careful with the way plurals, punctuation, periods, and spacing are used because of the impact they will have on your name search.

Search by Entity Number (8 Digits)

If you would like to search for businesses using a registration number, then you need to first go to the Secretary of State’s business search website and type in the entity’s registration number. The registration number should be eight digits long and always begins with the letter “C”. Then click search.

You will then get results based on the registration number inputted. To see more information about the business with that entity number, click the business name.

Certificates, Copies of Documents, and Status Reports

After completing your name search, you might also desire getting certain legal documents and certificates.

Documents that you might desire include:

  • Status Certificate
  • Certificate of All Documents Filed
  • No Record Certificate

The certificate of status confirms the LLC’s status at the moment. The No Record Certificate confirms that the Secretary of State has no records for a business it is asked for.

There are also other certified/uncertified documents you might desire, which cover:

  • Formation
  • Registration
  • Amendment
  • Termination
  • Information

There are also reports regarding a business’ status that you can get that include the business’ entire name, its registration number, its current status, its current address, and its jurisdiction.

You need to contact the Sacramento office of the California Secretary of State to request and receive a variety of documents, reports, and certificates. You need to request it by mail or in person.

There are a variety of procedural instructions for submitting various document requests. These instructions are on the request form as well as the fees for the various requests.

Applying for a DBA in LA

You can look for a non-current fictional business name either online, through the mail, or in-person.  Phone queries are not processed or allowed by RR/CC to search for business names.

The “Fictitious Business Name” search is an online search form you can use to see if a fictional business name is currently in use. If you do the search in-person, there is no fee.

If you would like certified results for companies that you find using the search, you can pay $2 per name and business.

If you conduct a search at a branch office you will only get the business’ name, its document number, and filing date. If you want more information, you need to get it at the Norwalk central office either in-person or through mail.

You can do name searches and filings in-person at the LAX Courthouse. It is located at:

11701 S. Cienega Boulevard
Floor 6
Los Angeles, CA 90045

You can conduct business there during business days, besides holidays, between 8:30 am and 4:00 pm You can also do business in-person at the Lancaster office, located at:

44509 16th Street West
Suite #101
Lancaster, CA 93534

Like at the LA Courthouse, it is open for searches and filings during non-holiday business days between 8:30 am and 4 pm Van Nuys is also open for in-person business during the same hours. It is located at:

14340 W. Sylvan Street
Van Nuys, CA 91401

Lastly, you can also do in-person business at the Norwalk Main Office between 8 am and 5 pm, located at:

12400 Imperial Highway
Room 1201
Norwalk, CA 90650

The non-Norwalk offices do not take mail queries. For conducting a name search by mail, you need to send it to the Norwalk office at:

Business Filings and Registration
P.O. Box 1208
Norwalk, CA 90650

In your query, you need to put the business’ name and address, a $5 non-refundable fee, and $2 per certified document for existing businesses. The fee must be by money order/check paid to the Register-Recorder. It also must include a stamped, self-addressed return envelope.

If you need help with creating your business name or forming a business in California, you can post your legal need to 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.