If you are forming an LLC or a corporation in California, the first thing you need to do is a business name search. This search checks all the registered business entities in the state to see if the business name you want to use is available. Like all other states, the state of California requires each LLC or corporation registered in the state to have a unique business name. So, before starting your business, it’s important to run a business entity search to verify if the name is available through the California Secretary of State before registering your LLC or Corporation. There is no fee to search.
Something to keep in mind is that even though each Corporation and LLC name must be unique, it may not stop someone else from using that name. To protect your business name, consider getting a trademark.
How to do a California Business Name Search
Step 1: Visit the Business Name Database
Go to the California Secretary of State’s website.
Step 2: Search your Business Name
Select the type of entity you are searching for (Corporation or LP/LLC), enter the name you would like to search, and click “Search.”
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.
Step 3: Review Results
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.
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.”
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.
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.
What information can be looked up in the name database?
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, so their home address isn’t publically 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 Register a Fictitious Business Name (Sole Proprietorships and Partnerships)
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.
A sole proprietorship or partnership operating their business under a name that is different from the owner’s legal name will register for a Fictitious Business Name, which is also known as “Doing Business As,” DBA, Assumed Name, or Trade Name.
What are the requirements to name an LLC in California?
In addition to the name being unique, the name of the LLC must include a special designator such as Limited Liability Company, LLC, L.L.C., etc., in addition to not using restricted words such as bank or insurance, unless the entity is licensed to operate as such.
Can an LLC name be reserved?
If you aren’t ready to form your LLC but want to reserve a name, an available name may be reserved for up to 60 days by filing a Name Reservation Request form. The cost to reserve is $10.
How do I form a California 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 a 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, is 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.
Also, be sure to check for California business licenses and permits to ensure the business is legal to operate.