Your company’s reputation is everything. Your choice of a name will be the foundation of your brand and your business relationships. There are many reasons why you might want to start with a clean slate and choose a “doing business as,” commonly called a DBA name, other than your own name or the name you originally registered with the California Secretary of State. Making this important name change can be straightforward but there are several hoops to jump through and many considerations along the way to get there.

Is a DBA California the Same As a Fictitious Name?

Yes. In California, a DBA is sometimes referred to as a “fictitious business name,” or FBN. Even though it is called fictitious, it’s just as real as any other name for a business, whether that name refers to an individual or an organization. However, most DBA’s are utilized by sole proprietorships, especially if the business name is different than that of the owner.

The name of your business is up to you, but it needs to be properly registered with the state of California. This can be done in person in the county where you reside or you can handle it all through the mail.

When you need to file a DBA in California

You must file a DBA in California under certain circumstances. The law states that a DBA California filing is required any time that sole proprietors, partnerships, limited liability companies and corporations want to run operations and sign legal documents under a different name. The law was developed as a form of consumer protection, to prevent business owners from avoiding liability by operating under a different name. For individuals running a sole proprietorship, you must file a DBA California any time you want to do business under a different last name, or if the owner doesn’t intend to use their own last name. For example, if John Doe formed a bakery called’s Doe’s Donuts, he may not need to file a DBA. But if his business was going to be called John’s Donuts, he would. The last name is the key. If he or she does not intend to use his or her last name, aDBA should also be filed in California if the business owner wants to or if you want to specify unnamed owners, like a store named “Johnson and Sons.”

Some companies choose to use a DBA, even though they may not be under any compulsory laws. Many companies launch with one set of goals, and therefore, one name, but as time goes on, they might refine their objectives and rename themselves as part of the rebranding. So, sole proprietorships are not the only ones that need to file a DBA. This is especially common in California, where tech start-ups are proliferating quickly.

You will also need a DBAif you have a division that has a narrow interest and you intend to set up a website or do business with that specialization. For example, if you own a gardening store and operate under the name “Johnson Gardening” and you want to open an online business for flowers only, you should file a DBA under the name of the website, such as “JohnsonFlowers.com.

Why to file a DBA in California

Filing a DBA is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to get a business name. You can create a separate identity (although not a separate entity) without the hassle of forming an LLC, corporation, or other structure. A DBA is usually required for sole proprietors to open a bank account and earn money in the name of your business. DBA’s also let you create multiple businesses without having to form a completely different entity. If your business wants to have multiple websites or restaurants, then you can create one ‘parent’ corporation, and use a DBA for the subsequent individual businesses. This would be ideal for paperwork and tax purposes when operating multiple business endeavors. Note however that simply filing a DBA will not change any of the tax consequences for your business. Finally, if you have an LLC or corporation, it could keep you in compliance with the law. If you execute a contract under a different name than your legal, operational name, the contract may not be valid or enforceable in the event of litigation.

Some Restrictions on Setting Up a DBA California

You cannot add any misleading business titles such as “LLC,” “Inc.” or “Corp.” to the end of your name. These abbreviations give the impression that the business is  are structured in a specific manner, which has various legal and tax implications. There are strict requirements in becoming a corporation or LLC, as well as liability issues which could mislead the public if you use these monikers.

Note that filing a DBA California does not grant you exclusive rights to use that name. The only way to legally protect your exclusive use of a name is to register a trademark under that name.

How to  set up a DBA in California

Before you get started, make sure you talk to legal counsel to make sure this is the best course of action for your business. If you’re ready to get started, here’s your roadmap:

Step 1: Name check.

Make sure the DBA name is not already in use in California. You can search for information about DBA California name searches from the Secretary of State. In some counties, you can do online searches right now. There’s usually no charge for this leg of the process. You can search the database provided in the local county clerk’s office, submit a search request by mail or set up an account to do priority searches over the phone if you will be doing this frequently.

Step 2: File a Fictitious Business Name Statement.

This is also at your county clerk’s office. The forms and fees vary by county, so make sure you are in the right county before filing.  The document consists of your original name and address, your DBA name, your business address, the full legal names of registered owners, your state business ID number, and your business type. The form must be notarized by an officer, partner, or member of the company, or by the owner him or herself before filing.

Step 3: Publish your new name.

After you file the above statement, you must  publish aDBA statement within 30 days of filing the paperwork. This statement must run once a week for four weeks in a local county publication where you do business. You’ll also need to give the county clerk a signed affidavit from the publication within 30 days after the final publication

Step 4: Follow up.

The statement expires five years after it was filed. You will need to refile before that date is up, but you won’t need to publish your DBA California statement again as long as there haven’t been any changes.

Forms to File a DBA California

Your county clerk will have all the forms that you need. In some counties, you can do online searches and submit forms online. Each county has different forms, so you will need to contact each county in which you operate to ensure you have the correct paperwork.

Get Legal Counsel

There are many legal, financial and tax implications involved in changing your company’s name to a DBA in California. Get the advice you need to make the right choices. One good place to start is with the legal professionals in the UpCounsel marketplace. UpCounsel screens out 95 percent of lawyers to provide only the most qualified legal professionals with real-world expertise. Get all the facts before you file your DBA California.