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 Tennessee 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. Tennessee 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 online services — like LegalZoom and Zen Business — that can do it for you.
1) Review Tennessee Name Requirements
Tennessee has three primary 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 Tennessee. If it’s too similar to another name, your filings could get mixed up with the paperwork for the wrong entity. And worse, a super-similar business name could confuse your customers.
For example, “Tennessee Lawn Care Bros, LLC” and “Tennessee Lawn Care Bros, Inc” are too close. A mere difference in entity type identifiers is not usually enough to make your name distinct. As a general rule, your name should both look and sound different from the names already in use in Tennessee.
Finally, Tennessee also restricts the usage of certain words in your business name. For example, your name cannot imply that your business conducts illegal activities or activities which do not align with your corporate purpose. In addition, your name cannot falsely represent your entity as a part of a government agency. If you are actually an agency, you’d need to obtain a written proof of that status from the appropriate government office.
For more information on business naming requirements, you can check out the Corporations and Associations Chapter of the Tennessee Code.
2) Create the Perfect Name for Your Tennessee 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 Tennessee’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 Tennessee Department of State
Now it’s time to check that your business name is available in the state of Tennessee. To do so, you’ll want to run a Business Name Availability 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 results, then good news! Your name is available for you to use in Tennessee. 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.
This search is relatively simple to use; simply type in the business name you hope to use. The tool will compare your name to those already in use in Tennessee. If no exact matches appear, then it’s likely the name is available to use. (Please note that this search does not serve as a guarantee of availability but rather a helpful starting point).
If you want to do a more detailed search, you can also run a Business Information Search. The name availability search will pull up exact matches, but this second search would allow you to run a keyword search to learn the names of other businesses which are similar to yours. This second search is not required, but you may find it helpful as you try to create a name that’s truly unique.
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 Tennessee
You’ve done the legwork to make sure your business name is free to use in Tennessee. Now, let’s ensure that none of that work goes to waste by reserving your business name with the state.
In Tennessee, you can reserve a business name by filing an Application for Name Reservation (the forms for other entity types can be found here) .You can file this form by mail or in person with the Department of State. This form includes some information about your business, including your entity type, the name, address, and signature, and of course, the name you wish to reserve.
Tennessee requires a fee of $20 for this name reservation. You can pay by check, cashier’s check, money order, or cash (walk-in filings only).
Reserving your name will protect your business name for 120 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 120-day-long reservation gives you plenty of time to get all your affairs in order and file your formation documents.
5) File Your Tennessee Formation Documents
Even though filing a reservation gives you 120 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 Business Services Division of the Tennessee Department 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 Tennessee For Profit Charter. You’ll also find easy access to forms such as name reservations, amendments, registered agent changes, and more.
Conducting a business name search is an important part of forming your business in Tennessee. 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.