One of the most exciting parts of starting your own small business is choosing the name. There’s no feeling quite like naming your entity and putting your momentum behind a name you can be proud of. But before you can incorporate your business and get the ball rolling, you’ll need to learn how to register a business name. After all, you don’t want to find out someone else is already operating a business under that name!

Registering a business differs by state, so depending on where you operate, the process could be a little different. That said, most states make the process of registering a business name very simple. Typically, it only takes a few steps to check if your name is available and to register it if it is. 

Here’s a closer look at business name registration and how to trademark a name for free, so you can start your business off on the right foot. 

What does it mean to register a business name?

Registering a business name can mean a couple different things, depending on the context. When you register your business’ name, you’re essentially applying for protection as a legal entity. There are four ways to register your business’ name:

  • By entity name. Registering a business name at the state level means incorporating. 
  • Through trademark. Applying for copyright protection safeguards your name.
  • Doing business as (DBA). Registering a DBA adds legitimacy to a small business. 
  • By domain name. Creating an online presence legitimizes your business.

Again, depending on the type of business you’re operating, any (or all) of these registration options may be good for you to consider. If you’re unsure of how to register a business name, it’s best to follow the Small Business Association’s guidelines.

Do I need a trademark for my business name?

Many new small business owners think they need to file a trademark for their business name after incorporating it. This isn’t always the case. If you plan to use your business’ name as part of a branded product or service (as a proper noun), filing a trademark might be smart; but, most businesses can trademark for free simply by using unique branding. It’s called “common law rights.” 

If you do decide to copyright your brand or want to learn how to trademark a name, you’ll need to contact the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and follow the application steps. 

Why should you register a business name?

Registering a business name will grant you a variety of protections. Namely, it’ll safeguard you from knockoffs, rip-offs, and imitators who might want to take advantage of your business’ name, products, or branding. Here are some other reasons to register a business name:

  • Registration can legally protect your business at the state and federal levels
  • Registering a business can provide more legitimacy than operating independently
  • Registering can simplify tax situations or make taxes more transparent

Registering a business name is ultimately about distinguishing your venture as a legitimate one. When you register and identify as a business, you draw a clear line in the sand between you, the founder, and your actions as a business operator. 

How to register a business name in 5 steps

As mentioned, registering your business will vary from state-to-state, and can depend on what type of entity you’re setting up. When it comes to the basics, it’s often as simple as these 5 steps:

  1. Make sure your business’ name is available in the state you’re registering in
  2. Determine your incorporation type and naming convention (LLC, Inc., Ltd., etc.)
  3. Register the entity name with local and federal business authorities
  4. Decide if you need to apply for copyright or trademark protection
  5. Apply for a business trademark through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Keep in mind that there may be a few more hoops to jump through if you’re going the extra mile to apply for special tax status, seeking a copyright name for free, or learning how to trademark a name. Thankfully, most states make the process simple and straightforward.


Do I need to register a business name by state?

Yes, registering your business differs from state-to-state. You’ll need to follow your state’s unique process for registration. Most states will have a very straightforward process that takes just a few steps to complete. 

Where can I check if a business name is taken for free?

If you’re applying for a trademark or copyright protection, you’ll need to see if your business name is available at the federal level. To check a trademark for free, visit go to the USPTO Trademark Electronic Business Center to search trademarks. 

What if my business name is taken?

If your business’ name is already registered, you’ll need to find a different one. Or, if the registration belongs to a defunct or discontinued business, you can ask that entity to cancel or transfer ownership of the registered name you desire. 

Do you need to register a business name?

It’s a smart idea to register your business at the very beginning of your journey. You’ll know right away if someone else owns the entity name that you want or if there’s potential trademark trouble ahead. It’s often best to consult a lawyer at the outset of your incorporation to make sure you’re doing everything by the book. There’s nothing quite like the peace of mind of being in control of a business that is all your own.

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