There are dozens of decisions to make when you start a business, but one of the most important ones is your business name. Some might even say that it’s harder than naming a baby. After all, the government doesn’t give “rules” about what you can name your children. They do give rules for business names.
Thanks to those legal regulations, trade names are one type of business name that can get a bit confusing. So if you’re wondering what a trade name is, if you need one, or how you can get one, you’re in the right place. In this guide, we’ll cover all the essentials to West Virginia trade names so you don’t have to sort through the legal jargon and focus on what really counts: your business.
Keep in mind that filing a trade name will not give your business protection through the corporate veil like an LLC will. If this is something you want or need, don't fret, there are many good LLC services in WV that can help you take care of the paperwork.
What is a West Virginia Trade Name?
A trade name—often called a DBA or fictitious name or assumed name—is a type of business name. More specifically, it’s a fake name used by a business, much like you might use a nickname around family and friends.
A bit more technically, a trade name differs from the business’s legal name. Here’s where it becomes important to note what kind of entity you’re running.
For example, let’s say Lauren Smith operates as a sole proprietorship. From a legal standpoint, her business is indistinct from her own person. So her business’s legal name is, well…Lauren Smith. Not many people want to call their business by their own name.
Lauren sells handmade baby clothes, so she decides to name her shop “Sew Sweet Creations.” Unless she incorporates as an LLC or corporation, she’d be using a trade name. Because of this scenario, trade names are most commonly used by unincorporated entities.
That said, many corporations and LLCs also choose to use trade names. For example, a local restaurant, “Becky’s Bistro,” might want to expand across their county, with a slightly different name for each location. Instead of creating a new LLC for the new locations, Becky might get a trade name for it. Corporations might do something similar for new product lines, too.
But that’s trade names in a nutshell!
Is trade name registration required in West Virginia?
Like most states, West Virginia requires you to register a trade name if you intend to use one. Thankfully, registration is pretty simple. The biggest challenge is ensuring that your name is “distinguishable on the record” from all other names in the state—other trade names included. Basically, your name must be different from every other registered name in the state by at least one word. But on the plus side, once you register your name, all future entrepreneurs have to make their name different from yours. So in a sense, you get exclusive rights to your trade name within West Virginia (at least from a practical standpoint). Even if West Virginia didn’t require registration, we’d recommend it for that reason alone.
Benefits to Registering a West Virginia Trade Name
There are several benefits to registering a trade name. Like we’ve just mentioned, one of the biggest benefits is that you’ll have exclusive rights to that trade name. Once you’ve registered the name, no one else in West Virginia can use it. This doesn’t apply to businesses in other states, of course, but while you’re just starting out, there’s a lot of peace of mind knowing that no one else in West Virginia has a name like yours.
One benefit you might not think of right away is that a trade name allows you to get a business bank account in that name. This isn’t a necessity for many entrepreneurs, but from an accounting standpoint, it’s really helpful. You can keep all your “business funds” in one place, separate from your personal funds. That’s a good habit to start from the get-go (especially if you ever intend to become an incorporated entity later).
On a similar note, a trade name gives your customers peace of mind. It’s not uncommon for customers to write checks, right? Without a trade name, they’d write the check to you personally. Some people are leery about that. But thanks to a business bank account, Lauren can tell her customers to make their checks out to “Sew Sweet Creations.” It’s just a psychological thing, but a trade name gives your business an extra layer of legitimacy.
Register your West Virginia Trade Name in 2 Steps
1. Check that your trade name doesn’t infringe on any legally protected names.
Before you register a trade name, you have to do your homework to ensure that you actually have clearance to use that name. Here are a few of the names you cannot use:
- Names that are already in use as the legal names of any corporations, LLCs, and other protected entities in West Virginia
- Names that have already been registered as trade names in West Virginia
- Names that have been reserved for future use as the legal names of incorporated entities
- Names that are protected by U.S. trademark law
The West Virginia Secretary of State will automatically reject your trade name if it infringes on other names registered in the state. They won’t check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s database for you. That’s why it’s important to complete a few different searches.
First, you’ll need to run a Business Organization Search (and sole proprietorships, partnerships, and individuals must also inquire about name availability with the West Virginia State Tax Department). This tool is your way to check the state database for any exact matches to your trade name. As a general rule, if you search your desired trade name and the tool pulls up any matches, you’ll need to change your name.
Resource: Need help with the Business Organization Search? Check out our full name search guide here.
Next, we recommend searching the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s trademark database. Even though trademarks are usually regarded as visuals or logos, any names and text included within those visuals are nationally protected. That means no other names or visuals in the entire United States can’t be the same or similar as a trademarked name.
There are plenty of examples of different small businesses being taken to court for infringing on the name of large international chains, but we won’t get into them. Just rest assured that you’ll be doing yourself a big favor by ensuring that your name is completely unique.
Another optional search is just your tried-and-true Google search. This won’t give you any systematic, organized results like what you’d get from the Business Organization Search. But it will give you insight into names being used everywhere.
For example, you might find that your desired name is being used by another business in a neighboring state. That’s fine as long as the name isn’t trademarked and you intend to run business exclusively in West Virginia. But if you have any aspirations of expanding into other states, you’ll want to know what names are in use there.
2. File the appropriate trade name application.
In West Virginia, the actual process of registering your trade name is pretty simple. Honestly, the most complicated part is locating the proper form, since every entity type has a different form. Thankfully, West Virginia simplifies this process by providing all of the forms on one page. Simply head to the drop-down menu to select your entity type and get the right form for your business.
Sole proprietorships, general partnerships, and individuals will not pay a filing fee for this registration; all other entities will need to pay $25 when they submit the form. Either way, once completed, this application gives you exclusive rights to your name. And since trade names in West Virginia do not expire, you’re set to go from then on.
Other Considerations for Your Trade Name
Now that you’re a proud owner of a West Virginia trade name, there are a couple things to keep in mind.
Most importantly, you should note that a trade name does not give you any personal asset protection. That’s a perk that comes with incorporating your business, such as forming an LLC or corporation.
If you already are (or you’re thinking about forming) an LLC or a corporation, then you get personal asset protection and even privacy through a registered agent service. This means that if something ever goes wrong with your business, your personal belongings—your car, your house, your personal savings account—are protected. Creditors or legal plaintiffs cannot touch them.
That protection is not available to unincorporated entities like partnerships or sole proprietorships. Moreover, applying for a trade name does not grant you that protection. In these cases, if something went wrong with your business, you’d have to pay any debts out of personal funds. So please don’t rely on a trade name for those protections.
Next, keep in mind that registering a trade name doesn’t prevent businesses in other states from using that name. The same applies for business’s legal names, too. We won’t get too technical with this, but each state governs its own businesses with no effect on businesses in other states. So as a businessperson in West Virginia, you’ll follow West Virginia law and federal (national) law for businesses. Virginia, for example, has no jurisdiction over your business unless you choose to expand into Virginia. This affects business names, too.
If you want to protect your trade name or legal name outside of West Virginia, you do have options. Foremost among them is applying for a trademark with USPTO. If that’s something you’re interested in, we recommend seeking additional legal counsel. Trademarks are a very complicated (and expensive) process, and a lawyer will help you conquer every aspect of the application.
Trade Names might sound a bit complicated, but they don’t have to be. As long as you follow the proper state guidelines, it’s actually as simple as filling out the correct form and paying the filing fee. Hopefully this guide has taken away some of the guesswork to West Virginia trade names.
If you decide that forming an actual entity is right for you, we recommend forming a West Virginia LLC for most small businesses and entrepreneurs. You can either register it yourself or hire a WV LLC filing service.