In California, a business operating under a fictitious name will need to register a DBA.  Learn more about what a DBA is, who needs one and how to register.

What is a DBA?

A DBA, also known as “Doing Business As”, Trade Name, Assumed Name or Fictitious Name is a name used by a business, that is different from the legal name of the business.   This name is often referred to as a Fictitious Business Name in California.

When a business wants to operate under a name other than their legal name, the state of California, like most states, require the business to register their business name.  The registration requirement was designed to protect consumers from business owners hiding anonymously behind the name of a business.

Who needs to register?

Any business doing business under a name that is different from their legal name has to register for a DBA.  The Fictitious Business Name Statement must be filed within 40 days of starting a business.

Sole proprietorships and general partnerships are the most common entity to register a DBA.  The legal name of a sole proprietor or partnership can be the owner’s last name, which isn’t registered.  Using the owner’s name to name a business works for many self-employed business owners, however many businesses want to operate under a distinct and brandable business name.

Corporations and Limited Liability Companies won’t typically register a fictitious name since a unique entity name is created during the formation process.  Some will file a FBN if they have another business they want to operate under their corporate/LLC umbrella to keep the liability protection without having to form another entity.

It’s important to note that registering a business name puts the name and address of the owners on public record.  This is especially important if you are starting a business on the side and worried about your employer finding out.  While it’s extremely rare that someone would find out on their own, it can still be a concern.

How much does it cost to register?

The cost to file a FBN varies by county but is typically around $30, plus publication costs.  The name registration needs to be renewed every five years.

What are the steps to file a DBA in California?

Regardless of the business entity, every business registering a Fictitious Business Name statement will file with the County Clerk in the county where the principal office is located.  If the principal place of business is out-of-state (for foreign entities such as corporations and LLCs), they will register in Sacramento County.

Here is a list of County Clerk’s offices in California.

Step 1 – Verify the Name is Available

Every DBA filing in California must be unique or can’t closely resemble other registered names.  Before filing, search the Secretary of State’s website to be sure the name you want to use is available. 

Click for more information on how to do a name search in California.

Step 2 – Fill out the Fictitious Business Name Statement

Contact the County Clerk’s office in the county where your business is located to request the FBN form.  The form and filing fees will vary by county.  Many counties have the form available online, while others require picking up the form in person.

Common information requested on the form includes;

  • Requested name of the business
  • Owner’s name & address
  • State business ID number
  • Type of business entity

Step 3 – Notarize & Sign the Form

The form will need to be notarized and signed by the business owner, partner, officer or LLC member. 

Step 4 – Submit and Pay

After filling out and notarizing the form, submit the form and payment to the County Clerk. 

Step 5: Business Name Publication

After submitting the form, there is a requirement to publish a legal notice once a week for four consecutive weeks within 30 days of the filing.  This notice will typically run in a newspaper that has general circulation in the county where the name is being filed. The county will have a list of approved publications.  

Expect to spend $30 – $100 to publish.

After the four weeks of publication, the newspaper will provide a signed affidavit that must be submitted to the County Clerk within 30 days of the final publication.

If the name is being refiled, there isn’t a publishing requirement unless any information changed from the original statement.

Name Restrictions

There are a few words that can’t be used in a Fictitious Business Name.

  • Entity designators such as Corp, Corporation, LLC, Limited Liability Company, etc unless the entity is registered as that type of entity with the Secretary of State.
  • Words such as Bank, Trust, Trustee, etc can’t be used unless the business is licensed to provide banking services.
  • More generally, a name can’t include words that may mislead consumer as to the nature of their business.

Protecting your business name

While registering your Trade Name will keep someone else from registering the exact same name in California, it does very little from someone else operating a business under that name in other states.  If stopping anyone from using your business name is important, you can protect it through a trademark – Learn more about trademarks.  

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