1. Company Naming Requirements
2. Sole Proprietorships and Fictitious Names
3. Questions About Naming Requirements

Updated October 23, 2020:

Do you have to put "Inc." after the company name? No, not necessarily. If you form a corporation, “Inc.” is just one of several designations you could add to your company's name. Your corporation will need some designator to indicate its status, however.

Company Naming Requirements

In the United States, there are several different business structures available, including corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs). Whichever structure you choose, you will need to comply with the naming conventions in your state. For instance, when forming a corporation, your company name will need to include a designator that reveals its corporate status.

Some of the designators you could add to your company name include:

  • Corporate or Corp.
  • Incorporated or Inc.
  • Limited or Ltd.

All of these are designators used to indicate the legal status of a company. The option that you choose depends on your preferences. If your business is a limited liability company, the name of your business should include those exact words or the abbreviation LLC.

Sole Proprietorships and Fictitious Names

In some cases, you may want to run your business under a fictitious name or doing business as (DBA) name. Basically, with a DBA name, you are transacting business with a name that is not your legal name. For example, if your name is John Stevenson and you want to run your business using the name “Stevenson's Building Company,” you need to complete a DBA registration or submit a fictitious name statement.

Businesses that operate under a DBA name are almost always sole proprietorships, which are owned and operated by a single person. General partnerships, which are operated by two people or more, may also use a fictitious name. While sole proprietorships and general partnerships are beneficial in some regards, their primary drawback is that owners can lose their personal assets if the business gets sued. To avoid this personal liability, many business owners choose to form a corporation or LLC. Both of these entities offer limited liability protections.

Questions About Naming Requirements

One of the most common questions related to business name conventions is why words and abbreviations like incorporated or Inc. are required. As mentioned, the purpose of these words is to let people know the legal status of your company. This can be important in letting people know how liability is applied if there is a disagreement between a company and a customer or client. Generally, if you do not use the correct designator for your company, or if you leave out a designator completely, incorporation will not be possible.

Another question many people have is if they can use the abbreviation “Inc.” even if they haven't completed the incorporation process. Unfortunately, you can only use this abbreviation if you have incorporated your company. If your business is a sole proprietorship and you operate using a DBA name, you cannot use a designator intended for a corporation or LLC.

You should also be aware that you can suffer serious consequences for using a corporate designator if your business is not a corporation. Depending on the location of your business, you may face hefty fines or penalties for using the wrong naming conventions. It is also possible that any contracts your business agrees to will be unenforceable if you try to misrepresent your business as a corporation or LLC.

If your company has incorporated, you may also wonder if it's possible to remove the Inc. or LLC designator from your company's name. While it's true that many corporations and limited liability companies do business using a DBA or trade name, limited liability designators serve a very important purpose.

Essentially, an entity that features limited liability protections must use a designator because it lets third parties know the company's status. If the designator is not included, they could make the argument that they would not have done business with entity had they known the status. They could also state that they would have requested a personal guarantee from the company if the third party knew they were working with a corporation.

Whether these arguments will stand up almost entirely depends on if you were actually trying to hide your limited liability status. It's always better to use your designator so that your status is known and you won't be vulnerable for a lawsuit.

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