If you have incorporated or are planning to incorporate your startup, there are some special considerations you should make when choosing a business name. In general, your Secretary of State will not allow you to file Articles of Incorporation if your corporate name is the same as, or closely resembles, any name on each state's official list of corporate names. This list includes names of corporations in good standing, foreign corporations qualified to transact business in the state, and corporate names reserved in the state. (Read "Trademark Considerations in Choosing a Corporate Name" for more details.)
Since your first choice for a business name may already be taken, it's best to start the process with several choices, and then do research to find out which are available. Another reason to start with lots of options is that not only are you choosing a business name, but also an Internet domain name. If possible, both these names should be the same -- or at least related -- but because the Internet is global, it's very likely your first choice for a domain name will not be available.
Here are some tips for choosing a business name:
- Getting it right the first time: If you don't choose your corporation name carefully, you may be forced to change it, which would require amending your Articles of Incorporation, changing your domain name, obtaining new listings in telephone and other directories, and purchasing new stationery. And, of course, changing your name may confuse your customers at a critical point in the startup process.
- Incorporating an already existing business: If you're incorporating an already existing business, you may wish to add "Inc." or "Corp." after the name.
- Using your own name: If you're set on using your own name as your corporation's name, you can do it by adding "Inc." or Corp." after your own name.
- Legal restrictions and requirements: Follow any naming requirements and legal restrictions of the state in which you are incorporating. A corporation is generally identified with a designator such as "Corporation," "Incorporated," "Limited," "Company," "Corp.," "Inc.," "Ltd.," or "Co." at the end of its name. In addition to these requirements, each state has legal restrictions which can be as simple as stating preferences for upper or lower case, and a state can prevent your corporation from having certain words in its name.
To determine whether a name is available in your state and to find out about requirements and legal restrictions, contact the Secretary of State. If your state has a list of active corporations, you can enter your choice of corporate names and see if it's already in use. Many states also offer a service where the Secretary of State will officially check to see if a name is available.
Once you know a name is available, the next step is to either reserve the name or immediately file incorporation papers. It may be possible to check availability and reserve a name simultaneously. (See "Reserving a Corporate Name".)
You can also use an incorporation service, whose fees will include finding out whether your chosen corporate name is available. Before using such a service, it's still a good idea to go through the process above. Three companies to consider: