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 Wisconsin 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. Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin Name Requirements
Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin. State law states that your name cannot be “the same as or deceptively similar to” the name of another entity. 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, “Wisconsin Lawn Care Bros, LLC” and “Wisconsin Lawn Care Bros, Inc” are too close. A mere difference in entity type identifier is not enough to make a name distinct if it is the only difference. Small, insignificant words like articles and prepositions usually do not work, either. As a general rule, your business name must have at least one word of difference (and it must be a keyword) to be distinguishable. If your name both looks and sounds different, it should be distinct enough.
Finally, Wisconsin restricts certain wording in your name. For example, your name cannot imply that you’re organized for a purpose that goes against corporate law. You also cannot include words like “insurance” or words belonging to architecture or professional engineering unless you also comply with laws set out in the 443rd Chapter of the state’s statutes.
For a full listing of business name requirements, you can consult the Name Guidelines section of the Corporations FAQs.
2) Create the Perfect Name for Your Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin’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 Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions
Now it’s time to check that your business name is available in the state of Wisconsin. To do so, you’ll want to run a Corporate Records 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 Wisconsin. 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.
It’s important to note that this search will not include Trade Names. However, to make the most of the tool, you should run two searches. First, under the Advanced Search option, make sure “With the exact phrase” and “Current names” are checked off. Then search the exact name you wish to use. If an exact match exists, you’ll need to make some tweaks.
The second search is optional, but you may find it helpful to run a keyword search. Simply type in a keyword from your business name, and the tool will pull up the names that include that keyword. This will help you know what names are being used by your competition. Then you can make your name truly stand out.
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 Wisconsin
You’ve done the legwork to make sure your business name is free to use in Wisconsin. Now, let’s ensure that none of that work goes to waste by reserving your business name with the state.
In Wisconsin, you can reserve a business name by filing a Name Reservation Application.You can file this form by mail with the Department of Financial Institutions. This form includes some information about your business, such as your business type, requested name, contact information of the person requesting the reservation, and a signature.
Wisconsin requires a fee of $10-15 (depending on your entity type) for this name reservation. You can pay by check made payable to WDFI.
Reserving your name will protect your business name for 120 days (60 days for foreign entities). 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.
If you need additional time, you can apply for a ten-year reservation for an additional fee.
5) File Your Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions serves as a helpful starting point for forming your business. Here you’ll find the forms you need to start your business, including the Wisconsin Articles of Incorporation. 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 Wisconsin. 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.