What's in a Name?
When you start a business, one of the first things you must do is choose a name for your business. Not unsurprisingly, there are a number of statutes governing what name you can use.
If you are a natural person, you can conduct the business in your own name, without filing anything else.
If you are a natural person and want to conduct the business by a name other than your own name, you have to file a fictitious business name statement in the county in which you are doing business. An example would be Jane Doe doing business as Office Resolutions. You can research many counties’ fictitious name filings on line. Some county websites are:
If you are a partnership, you also must file a fictitious business name statement in the county in which you are doing business. You can also file a statement with the California Secretary of State.
If you are organizing a corporation or limited liability company or LLC, you choose a name when you file your articles of incorporation or articles of organization with the Secretary of State. Generally, the corporation’s or LLC’s name cannot be deceptive or misleading, or be the same as or closely resemble another entity’s name. A name is deceptive if the only difference is “Inc.,” “Co.,” or some other corporate ending. There are also limitations to using certain words, including “trust,” “bank,” and “Olympics.” You can check if your chosen name with the California Secretary of State.
A corporation or LLC can also decide to conduct business under a different name. If it does so, it must file a fictitious business name statement.
A final consideration in choosing your business name arises under intellectual property law. A person cannot conduct business under a name protected as a trade mark or service mark. You can check trade marks and service marks at the website of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
California also has a trade mark and service mark office as part of the California Secretary of State.