When you meet someone new, what’s the first thing you want to know about them? Their name. Your name is unique—it’s how people remember you.
The same goes for your California business: choosing your name is the most important step of forming your company. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just picking the name you like best from a list. That works for babies, but not businesses. California has several requirements that you’ll need to follow as you pick a name.
Fortunately, this five-step guide will help you pick a name that is both perfect for your business and compliant with state laws. We’ll also cover how to reserve your name once you’ve picked it. Let’s get started.
NOTE: If you have found the perfect business name and would like to begin the process of registering your business with the state, there are a lot of cheap LLC services — like LegalZoom and Zen Business — that can do it for you.
1) Review California Name Requirements
California has several requirements for naming your business. First, your name must include a designation of the type of company you’re forming. For example, if you’re forming a Limited Liability Company, you’ll need to include “LLC,” “Limited Liability Company,” or an abbreviation of those terms. Corporations must include “Inc.,” “Incorporated,” “Corporation,” etc. Regardless of what kind of entity you make, your name should reflect your business type.
Second, your name must be distinguishable from other business entities in California. What constitutes “similar” is a bit complicated. The name must sound different from any other business name in the state when spoken aloud. Additionally, your spelling, punctuation, or other elements of your name must be distinct.
In California, however, if you have developed a name that’s substantially similar to one already in use in the state, you may still be able to use it. To do so, you’ll need to obtain written consent from the original owner of the name. What constitutes a name as substantially similar is subject to a wide variety of rules. The state has provided a detailed resource of naming guidelines and restrictions.
There are a few other details to note when choosing a name: your name cannot be misleading as to your business affiliations. You cannot imply that you are a part of a government agency, an insurance provider, or a different entity type unless you’re actually one of those entities. And if you are, it’s likely that you’ll need to obtain additional permissions prior to forming.
2) Create the Perfect Name for Your California Business
Now that we’ve covered all the things you can’t do with your business name, let’s focus on what you can do. Here’s where you can let your creativity shine. As long as you meet California’s requirements, you can pick just about anything you like.
However, to make your business name perfect, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Pick a name that represents your business: Your business name is the first impression you’ll send to potential customers; you want to make sure it’s the right impression. So, be sure to include important aspects of your business in your name. For example, if you’re starting a restaurant that specializes in vegan fare, you’ll want that to be clear by your business name.
- Write it down and say it aloud: Your business name appears everywhere—business cards, your website, company signage, and more. A good name will look good on paper. But you’ll also say your name a lot, too, so make sure it sounds as good as it looks.
- Choose a name that you’re proud of: Do you like the name you’ve come up with? You love your business, and you should love the name that goes with it. If you love the name, then you’re good to move on to step three.
3) Search Your Chosen Name with the California Secretary of State
Now it’s time to check that your business name is available in the state of California. To do so, you’ll want to run a Corporation Name Search.
Here’s how it works: input the business name you developed in Step 2. If the state’s search tool doesn’t find any exact matches, then good news! Your name is available for you to use in California. However, if it does find a match, you’ll want to start over or tweak your name a little to make sure it’s different from what’s currently in use in the state.
California recommends that you include as many unique, descriptive words in your search as possible. Once you’ve input your name, the tool will pull up any and all similar names based on keywords. So the more keywords you can include in the name, the more limited the results will be. As a result, entering your exact name (including spaces, punctuation, etc.), will be most effective. You can find a full list of tips on using the search tool here.
While this step may seem like a hassle, it can save you time in the long run. You’ll need to put your business name on your formation documents; if you put down a name that’s already in use, the state will send it back to you, request a change, and you’ll need to file all over again. This could potentially slow down your start-up process by several days or even weeks. Searching your name ahead of time prevents that slow-down.
4) Reserve Your Business Name with California
You’ve done the legwork to make sure your business name is free to use in California. Now, let’s ensure that none of that work goes to waste by reserving your business name with the state.
In California, you can reserve a business name by filing a Name Reservation Request Form. You can file this form by mail or in person at the Secretary of State. This form includes the name you’d like to request, including spaces for additional choices if your preferred option is not accepted.
California requires a fee of $10 for this name reservation. You can pay by check.
Reserving your name will protect your business name for 60 days. While it’s unlikely that another person will come up with the exact name you’ve chosen, this process prevents anyone else from using your name. The 60-day-long reservation gives you plenty of time to get all your affairs in order and file your formation documents.
5) File Your California Formation Documents
Even though filing a reservation gives you 60 days of exclusive rights to the name you’ve created, you’ll need to file your formation documents to make everything official. The document you need to use varies depending on the type of business you’re forming, but it’s often called the Articles of Incorporation or the Articles of Organization.
The California Secretary of State serves as a helpful starting point for forming your business. Here you’ll find the forms you need to start your business, including the California Articles of Incorporation (Domestic Corporation). You’ll also find easy access to forms such as name reservations, formation documents for other entities, amendments, registered agent changes, and more.
Conducting a business name search is an important part of forming your business in California. The search saves you time and helps you set up a name that makes your business stand out. We hope this guide made it simple to name your business.