How To Do A Free LLC Name Search
Did you know each state requires Limited Liability Companies (LLC) and corporations to have a unique name from others in the state? Learn more about LLC name requirements, considerations, and how to find out if the business name you want to use is available.
When forming an LLC, the Articles of Organization, which is called the Articles of Formation or Certificate of Formation in some states, is the document used for registering a business entity. This registration is done with the Secretary of State, sometimes called the Division of Corporations, Department of State, etc. In the Articles of Organization, information about the business such as the business name, address, registered agent, members, and more depending on the state.
Before starting to form an LLC, we want to first find out if a business name is taken. To do that, we need to start with a free business name search from the Secretary of State’s website in the state where the LLC will be forming. Links to each of the Secretary of State‘s website and instructions on how to do an LLC name search is listed below.
How do you check if an LLC name is taken?
Before starting your business and forming an LLC, check for business name availability with the state. Below are links to each state’s business name search database so you can do your own free LLC name search.
Note for Sole Proprietorships and Partnerships
The process of registering business names for sole proprietors and partnerships is different from an LLC. To register a name for these business entities, check out our article on How to Register a DBA (Doing Business As) – also referred to as a DBA name, Assumed Name or Fictional Business Name in some states.
Each state has different requirements for Limited Liability Company names. Some of the common requirements include:
Designator – A designator is a unique identifier used at the end of a corporation or LLC’s name to identify what entity the business is. For LLCs, the common designators that are available include; Limited Liability Company, Limited Company, LLC, L.L.C., LC, or L.C.
A comma is allowed, but not required after the business name. For example, “Cowboy Cleaners LLC” and “Cowboy Cleaners, LLC” are both acceptable.
Uniqueness – Each state requires every LLC, corporation, and Limited Partnership to have a unique name. The test of what is considered unique varies by state but is commonly referred to as a name that is not a confusingly similar name.
A few examples of common things that don’t make a business entity name unique:
Plural vs non-plural – “Cowboy Cleaner” and “Cowboy Cleaners”
Type of business entity – “Cowboy Cleaners, LLC” and “Cowboy Cleaners, Inc”
Indefinite Articles like “A”, “An” & “The” – “The Cowboy Cleaners, LLC” and “Cowboy Cleaners, LLC”
Alpha Numeric – “3 Cleaners, LLC” and “Three Cleaners, LLC”
Deceptively Similar – “Cowboy Cleaning, LLC” and “Cowboy Cleaners, LLC”
Other LLC Name Considerations
Trademark Search – Before settling on a name, you want to make sure there isn’t a federal trademark protecting it. See how to do a trademark name search through the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO).
Related: What’s the difference between a trademark and a patent?
Domain Search – Look to see if a domain name is available that is the same or close to your business name. Besides being able to secure this name to use, it may uncover a competitor with trademark rights. Do a domain name search here.
Common Questions when Registering a Name
I’m not ready to file my LLC yet, but know what name I want. Can I reserve my name now and form the LLC later?
In most states, you can reserve the name (by paying a small filing fee) if you aren’t ready to file the LLC. Another option available in many states is called the delayed effective date. The delayed effective date lets you file an LLC today but it doesn‘t start until a later date. Most states allow up to 90 days.
Does registering my name keep anyone else from using it?
Filing your LLC and registering a name with the Secretary of State only stops someone from using the same LLC or corporation name in your state only. Someone could form a sole proprietorship or partnership and use the same name (without the LLC designator) or even form an entity in another state with the same business name. To stop someone from using your business name, you will want to learn more about trademarks.
How much does it cost to register an LLC name?
There is no additional cost to register an LLC name, as it is included in the cost of registering the business entity. There is a cost to reserve a name, that varies by state.
Do I have to use the word “LLC” in the name of my business?
Rules by state vary regarding the entity designator for an LLC. Common ones include LLC, L.L.C., Limited, Company, Limited Liability Company, etc. Thoughts vary on usage however, it should be used on all legal documents or documents customers will see so they will reasonably understand the business is an LLC (tax forms, contracts, invoices, business cards, etc.). There is some debate about whether the LLC designator should be used on a logo, but it is often recommended not to use it there.
What are the Articles of Organization?
When forming an LLC, the Articles of Organization, which is called the Articles of Formation or Certificate of Formation in some states, is the document used for registering a business entity. This registration is done with the Secretary of State, sometimes called the Division of Corporations, Department of State, etc. In the Articles of Organization, information about the business, such as the business name, address, registered agent, members, and more depends on the state.
What if there is another business registered with the LLC name that I want to use?
If the name you want shows up in the state database, it’s likely that it is no longer available. If the search comes up with a message of active or taken, you will need to come up with a different name.