Using a different name for business is done when another entity in your state is already using your desired company name. Businesses also use trading names to enhance their branding and advertising efforts. When a business uses a name other than its legal name, it's called a fictitious name, trading name, or Doing Business As (DBA) name. A DBA name should be distinguishable from other registered entity names and should not infringe on any other company's copyright. DBA names are registered in the state where you desire to do business.

Why You Might Need a DBA Name

There are a number of benefits to using DBA names.

  • The business may need a DBA name to open a bank account.
  • Sole proprietors may need a DBA name to protect their privacy.
  • States have strict requirements for company names. Some of the requirements force companies to have long names, which are not practical for branding and advertising purposes. Many businesses need shorter, more memorable names for branding.
  • Foreign companies formed out of state may want to register in a new state under their legal name but might find that the name is already in use. States normally allow such companies to register a DBA name for use in the state. To avoid being forced to use a DBA name for this reason, new businesses anticipating that they will expand to other states in the future register their names in those states. This filing can be updated when it expires. Business law firms can help you with this service for a modest annual fee.

How to Register a DBA Name

The process for registering a DBA name varies from state-to-state. It usually involves the following steps:

  • Choosing a name: The name should be short, memorable, and descriptive of the business' industry.
  • Checking the name for availability: Check your name against the database of already registered business names in the state. Most states require that names of new businesses should be different from existing company names and distinguishable from the names of other registered companies. The level of distinguishability required differs from state to state but, generally, new companies are not allowed to make minor changes to names of already registered businesses and register them as their own. Many states have online databases of already registered names that you can search for free.
  • Booking the name: You can register a Doing Business As name by filing a form with the state's Department of Corporations. The filing can generally be done in person, by postal mail, or online. A small fee of $10-$50 is paid for the filing. Some states do require that foreign companies file the name by postal mail. This filing is not the final registration but is normally done to keep the name on hold for your business for a couple of weeks pending the official registration.
  • Officially registering the name: Company names in most states are officially registered by filing a form called the Articles of Organization or Certificate of Incorporation or Articles of Formation. In many states, this filing is normally done with the Division of Corporations of the office of secretary of state. A $50-$200 fee is normally required. The acceptance of this filing means that your company's name is officially registered.

Common Requirements for Doing Business As Names

Trade names must meet a number of requirements to be accepted for registration. Some of the common requirements in various states are:

  • The name should not be in use by another registered entity in the state.
  • The name should be distinguishable from other names of registered entities in that state.
  • Depending on the type of business, the name is sometimes required to contain a specific phrase in the name. For example, limited liability companies are required to have the "limited liability company" phrase or acronym within the name.
  • The name should not infringe on the copyrights of other registered companies in the U.S. Although this is not a requirement for registration in many states, it is prudent to check with the United States Patents and Trademarks Office to avoid any future litigation because of trademark issues.

If you need help with choosing, registering, and cross-checking your DBA 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, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.