How to Search Available Business Names in California

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Quick Reference

Whether you’re researching the availability of a business name or checking the status of a business entity, find the information you need from the California Secretary of State’s website.

The Secretary of State Business Entity Database provides information for corporations and LLCs registered in California.  The names of sole proprietorships or general partnerships are not centralized and are registered at the County Clerk’s office in the county where the business is located. Read more about filing a DBA in California.

There is no fee to search the database.

What information can be looked up?

The database search can find information on:

Registration Date – Date of filing with the Secretary of State
Entity type – Such as a corporation, Limited Liability Company or non-profit
Status – “FTB Suspended” “SOS/FTB Suspended” or “Dissolved” means the business is not active in the state.  “Active” means the business entity is in good standing and all reports and filing fees are up to date.
Agent for Service of Process – Commonly known as the Registered Agent, this person is the singular point of contact for the entity should the state need to contact the business or if there is legal action against the business.  This is often one of the owners and their home address is often used, making their home address public information.  Many people find this concerning and use a Registered Agent service like Northwest Registered Agent or IncFile so their home address isn’t listed.
Entity Address – Address of the principal address
Statement of Information – The last area contains the filings for the Statement of Information which is the annual update to the Articles of Incorporation / Articles of Organization.

How to do a California Business Name Search

  1. Visit the California Secretary of State’s website.
  2. Select the type of entity you are searching for (Corporation or LP/LLC), enter the name you would like to search and click “Search”.How to do a California Business Name Search
  3. To register a name for a corporation or LLC in California, it must:
    – Not be the same too similar to an existing name in the business entity database and
    – Not be misleading to the public

    In this example, we will search for “Sew What” as a corporation.

    LLC Name Search California

  4. With a corporation search for “Sew What” we get several results, some that are similar and some that are not.  If the name you search comes back with a record, be sure to look at the “Status” column.  In this example, there are several that have been suspended or dissolved.  Depending on how long they have been inactive, you may still have the opportunity to register the name.California Business Entity Search
  5. If you were to click on one of the records in the “Entity Name” column you can see additional information about the business. In this example, we will look at the last one “Sew What, Inc.”California Business Search - Entity Detail
  6. Before selecting a name, you want to be sure yours is not too similar to the other names in the database.  Also note that registering a business name does not mean someone else may have ownership in another state.  For that you will want to research trademarks before choosing a business name.
  7. Another search result is when there are “No matching entries found”.  This means there isn’t a similar name in the database.  The result looks like the screenshot below.

California LLC Name Search

How do I form an LLC?

Before starting your business and forming an LLC, be sure to do the business entity search first to make sure the name is available to use.  Once you know the LLC name is available, learn how to form an California LLC by reading our step-by-step guide on filing the Articles of Organization.

While not required in California, an Operating Agreement, which are the rules for how the LLC operates, may be a document worth considering especially for multi-member LLCs.

After forming a Limited Liability Company, be sure to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN).  This is a “social security number” for the business.  There is no cost to get one through the IRS.

After forming the LLC, California business licenses and permits may still be necessary.