Updated November 26, 2020:

An LLC availability name search lets you check online to see if the name you've chosen for your limited liability company is available for use, or taken by another business in your state.  It's important to give careful consideration to the name of your new business since it will help customers find, learn about, and remember you when they need your products or services.

Importance of Business Name Availability

Before purchasing a domain name for your new business's website, you must make sure that the name you plan to use is available for registration in your state. If you're starting an LLC, non-profit corporation, limited partnership (LP), or limited liability partnership (LLP), the name of your business must be distinguishable from those of other businesses registered in your state. 

If you attempt to register a name that is already in use by another business entity or corporation, your creation documents will be rejected. In some states, filing fees for rejected business applications are not refundable. In most states, you can avoid this issue by reserving a name for a nominal fee before filing the registration documents for the business. The length of reservation time and the associated cost vary by state.

Trademark Law

Understanding the basics of trademark law can help you avoid infringing on the trademark of another business. Infringement can occur if you choose a name for your business that is too similar to the name of a competing c, leading to confusion in the marketplace. If you are found to be infringing on a trademark, you will need to change the name of your company, which can be costly, and possibly ordered to pay monetary damages. Thorough research can help you avoid the perils of trademark infringement.

Each state maintains its own database of registered business names, so this is the ideal place to start your search. However, you'll also need to ensure that you are not infringing on businesses that have not registered the name but hold the trademark. These companies have used the name in the marketplace already. U.S. law does not require registration of the name for trademark protection to exist. However, if a business is already using your name but is not in good standing with the state, you may be able to register the name. 

The best way to start your search is simply by Googling your preferred business name and exploring the results you receive. Results will quickly show whether another business is already using that name for a similar product or service. 

Fictitious Name Databases

Your county or state government maintains a searchable fictitious name database. The database records DBA (doing business as) names, which are trade names used in the marketplace instead of the legal business name recorded in its formation documents.

Filing a DBA name with the county clerk allows an LLC to do business under the assumed name, including accruing debt, entering legal contracts, advertising and marketing, and opening a bank account. Small businesses may register a DBA with the county or state without registering it as a trademark.

You can register any number of DBAs, which is ideal if you want to market specific products or services under different names while using one LLC. However, using a DBA doesn't give you exclusive rights to that name unless you also register it as a trademark. 

Registered Trademarks

Federal government trademarks can be searched through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Because this database includes all registered trademarks, this search can help you prevent trademark infringement. You should also check your state's database since many small businesses only apply for state-level trademark protection.

When it's OK to Use a Similar Name

In certain situations, you may be able to give your business the same name as an existing business:

  • When you provide a dramatically different product or service than offered by the business in question
  • When you or the other business only serves a small local population, and you are in different states
  • If the similar name is unlikely to confuse the marketplace

If you need help with choosing a name for your LLC, 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, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.