Creating a business name is one of the most exciting and important startup tasks that entrepreneurs must tackle. The name you choose for your business will serve to distinguish you from your competitors and give customers insight into the experience they will have with your company.
You will want to get it right and follow the necessary steps to ensure you have legal rights to use your name before you start publishing it on all of your documentation and marketing materials.
Tips to Help You Protect Your Business Name
1. Consider the Brand Personality You Want Your Name to Project
How do you want people to perceive your company? Hip? Luxurious? Academic? High-tech? When selecting a name, realize it will create a mental picture in the minds of those who see and hear it. Make sure you choose a name that makes the right impression.
2. Don’t Go Open-ended or Get Too Specific
If you pick a business name that’s too general, people won’t have a clue as to what your business does. For example, “Jessie’s” could be an auto repair shop, a restaurant, a spa, or some other type of business; whereas “Jessie’s Cafe’” will give customers a much better idea of what they can expect.
It takes time to build brand recognition, and a non-descriptive name will require a longer interval between when you launch your business and when people automatically connect your name with what your business does. Avoid getting too specific, though. For example, “Jessie’s Bagels” might limit her ability to extend the public perception of her company if she decides to expand into serving other menu items.
3. Make it Stick by Keeping It Short and Simple
Focus on creating a business name that people can easily spell, pronounce, and remember, you’ll have a less challenging time making your brand memorable. Choose a name that customers won’t struggle to recall. Otherwise, they might have a tough time recommending your products and services to their family members and friends.
4. Don’t Offend People
Be wary of using wording that might be misconstrued or seem inappropriate for your audience. You’ve surely seen how quickly missteps and misunderstandings can draw a firestorm of online fury and destroy brands. If your name intentionally—or even unintentionally—presses any political or cultural hot buttons, you’ll have some damage control ahead of you. Realize that not everyone has the same tolerance for controversial references —even when meant to be humorous and harmless.
5. Brainstorm Several Options
Even if you have one absolute favorite name in mind from the very start, put your creative powers to work and brainstorm a few additional options. You may discover you’re able to think of something even better than the name you coined initially. And, if the name you want turns out not to be available because another business has already claimed it, you’ll need to have Plan B.
6. Test Your Name
Before creating a business name, I recommend asking trusted colleagues, friends, family, and members of your target audience to review your business name options and provide feedback. By assessing their perceptions and reactions, you will learn:
- Whether your name choices convey what your brand is all about and discover which of them does it best.
- If your names are offensive or alienate people.
- Which of your name options people find most unforgettable.
7. Conduct a Free Business Name Search
Before registering your business name, use CorpNet’s free corporate name search tool to make sure no other business is using it in your state. If the name is available, you’ll be able to use it on your business formation paperwork and thereby claim it for your company.
If you’re not quite ready to officially start your business but want to save the name so no other business can pull it out from under your feet, you may have the option to reserve it with your state’s Secretary of State office. CorpNet can help you with filing your business name reservation request, so your name will be held for you until you are ready to form an LLC or incorporate your company. Usually, a name reservation will place your desired name on hold for 30-90 days. If you don’t register your business before the name reservation expires (and if you’re not granted an extension or renewal of your reservation), your name will become available for use by others.
8. Do a Trademark Search
I also recommend doing a trademark search to see any other business in the entire U.S. has registered for or been granted a trademark on the business name you want to use. You can search for federal trademarks through CorpNet’s free search tool or conduct a search through the United States Trademark and Patent Office (USPTO). At CorpNet, we also offer a Comprehensive Trademark Search service, which (for a reasonable fee) provides a detailed report with data from the USPTO, state and county records, and trade journals and associations. It even identifies Internet domain names that may present a conflict with your desired business name.
9. Register Your Business Name
After you’ve decided on your business name, you’ll want to make it official with the state.
If you opt to conduct business as a sole proprietor or general partnership, you may need to register your name in your state by filing for a DBA (“Doing Business As”). Also, known as a fictitious name, a DBA is required if you plan to use a business name that doesn’t incorporate your own first and last name in it. For example, you wouldn’t need to file a DBA for Patty Nelson’s Dog Grooming, but you would need to file a DBA if you will operate your company as “Furtastic Dog Grooming” or “Patty’s Dog Grooming,” or some other fictitious name. With your name approved as a DBA, states will typically not allow businesses with similar products or services to legally operate their businesses under that name.
If you opt to form an LLC or incorporate your business, your company’s name will automatically be protected within the state when your business registration documentation is approved. When your business becomes a bonafide legal entity, no other business entities that provide similar products and services will be able to use your name.
10. Apply for Trademark Protection
Are you thinking ahead and envisioning taking your business into multiple states or nationwide? Then consider protecting your business name by filing for a registered trademark. When the USPTO approves your trademark, other businesses across the U.S. won’t be allowed to use it.
According to the USPTO, owning a federal trademark registration provides “legal presumption of your ownership of the mark and your exclusive right to use the mark nationwide on or in connection with the goods/services listed in the registration.”
Creating a Business Name Means Giving it the Time and Attention it Deserves
Creating a business name will produce one of your most critical business assets—one that will identify your brand and set the tone for your company in the marketplace. I urge you to think carefully and thoroughly as you select a name for your company and to follow the necessary steps to secure your rights to legally use your desired name.
And remember, CorpNet is here to assist you in confirming the name you want to use is available, registering your business name, and filing for trademark protection. Contact us today to get started!