“What's in a name?” asked Juliet. Four centuries later, we know that a lot rides on a name, especially when it comes to your business. Your business name impacts branding strategy, customer perception, growth and overall success. And while selecting your business name can be fun, it might also be one of the toughest choices you’ll make. The process isn’t as simple and "carefree" as you may think either.
Did you know there are certain business name registration guidelines that you need to abide by while narrowing down the perfect name? And, if your business name isn't up to snuff, legally speaking, you stand to undo all the hard work you've put into starting a business and building an identity. In some cases, an inappropriate business name can even leave you vulnerable to a lawsuit.
Here’s the breakdown of what each state allows and doesn’t allow when it comes to business names. Knowing the laws that govern business entity names will go a long way in ensuring your name is appropriate and protected.
The Name Game — Rules That Apply
Before we jump into looking at business name restrictions in each state, let’s cover some general guidelines that apply across all states and business structures. This section addresses concerns like, “Can you use a state name in a business name?” and “Are there any business name restrictions based on the type of entity you have?”
There are several federal and state laws that govern how you can name your business. Furthermore, your business's structure also impacts the naming rules and requirements. Here are a few common business name registration guidelines that are applicable across most states.
Common Business Name Guidelines Across States
You cannot use business entity identifiers like "LLC," “Limited Liability Corporation,” “Corporation” or “Inc.” if the business hasn’t been formally registered under the same. On the other hand, if your business is registered as a corporation or LLC, then some form of the identifier must be included in the name.
The name cannot use any words that can confuse your business with a government agency or unit (FBI, Treasury, State Department, village, city). Words that commonly denote governmental organization include “Agency,” “Commission,” “Department,” “Bureau,” “Division,” “Municipal” or “Board" are also prohibited.
Professional licensing is required for use of words like “Doctor,” “Attorney” or “Certified Public Accountant (CPA).”
You cannot use words like “bank,” “insurance,” “trustee” or “trust” without permission.
Names shouldn’t be deceptively close to another business name. For example, The Finish Line Company and A Finish Line Company are deceptively close names.
The business name should in no way mislead the customer.
No use of offensive, racial or derogatory words are allowed.
The above are just general guidelines. Each state has its own naming laws and restrictions that should be kept in mind while you’re coming up with a business name.
State-by-State Business Name Restrictions
Business Name Restrictions (for Corps & LLCs)/ Requiring Additional Documentation
Bank, Banking, Banc, Engineer, Engineering, Olympic
City, Borough or Village, or any words that otherwise imply that the company is a government body
Bank, Banker, Banking, Banc, Banco, Deposit, Trust, Trust Company
Accountant, Financial Institution, Bank, Banker, Banking, Banc, Savings Bank, Savings and Loan, Savings Association, Financial Services Loan Company, Credit Union, Trust Company, Intrapacific Bank, International Banking Corporation, Trust, Olympic, Olympiad, Citius Altius Fortius, Insurance
*No use of purely geographic names or landmarks registered with a recognized historical registry like "Honolulu," "Olomana," "Wailuku, Maui," "Kailua, Oahu," "Diamond Head," "Aloha Tower," "Pearl Harbor"
Bank, Benefit, Blind, Board of Trade, Chamber of Commerce, Community Renewal, Corporation, History, Incorporated, Partnership, State Police, State Trooper, Tenant Relocation, Urban Development, Urban Relocation, United Nations
Architect, Architecture, Architectural, Bank, Banker, Banking, Certified Public Accountant, Cooperative, Co-op, Engineer, Engineering, Mutual, Trust, Insurance, Surveyor, Survey, Surveying, Wholesale
Bank, Banking, Banker, Trust, Farming, Farm, Farmer, Insurance
Education, School, College, University, Bank, Banking
We’ve provided an overview of prevalent business name restrictions in each state; however, this is not a comprehensive list and doesn't replace legal research. Furthermore, states can change their requirements at any given moment.
If you've selected a name for your startup through a business name generator or your own brainstorming, here’s what you can do to make sure the name is distinguishable, legal and available.
Steps to Ensure Your Name Is on the Right Side of the Law
Selecting a name that is not abiding by the law is one of the top mistakes you want to avoid. Follow these steps and get a business name that’s distinguishable and meets the latest federal and state requirements. When done right, this process will save you significant time and investment.
Check with State Secretary on Naming Requirements
While most states have similar naming statutes, there are a few variations. In addition, name reservation, renewal and transferability laws also differ by state. All of these can be frequently updated or changed without any notice. Therefore, it’s best you check your state’s website for the latest guidelines on any restrictions on the name of a company.
Conduct a Name Search
Came up with the perfect name that is void of any restrictions? Great! The next step is to find out if the business name is already registered. There are a variety of ways to check whether your desired name is legally available. Run a search through Incfile’s free Business Name Search Tool to identify if your proposed name is available with the Secretary of State.
You can also run a trademark search with the United States Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO). This is particularly helpful if your business deals in more than one state. If a name is trademarked, it’s protected across all 50 states.
Consult a Lawyer
For any legal guidance, it’s always best to consult a lawyer to make sure all your bases are covered. Naming a business is serious and any misstep can result in a rejected filing or other legal implications. Work with a lawyer and make sure your proposed name is legit and protected.
What's in a Business Name? A Lot!
Simply put, there’s a lot riding on your business name — once it’s in place, you can build your business’s entire structure and identity around it. But, finding a perfect name that meets all the above criteria can be quite an undertaking. Discovering that you’ve filed for an inappropriate name after you have done all the hard work of getting a company off the ground can be quite a setback.
However, remember that Incfile is there to help you brainstorm, identify and even register the most appropriate name on your behalf whenever you're ready to start your business. Working with Incfile to generate and register your business name will ensure your business and its name are protected from day one.
Swara Ahluwalia is a freelance content writer with experience in the technical, B2B and SaaS domain. She also has curated content for various lifestyle brands. In her downtime, you will most likely find Swara training for her next marathon or spending time with her two daughters.