Photo: Corey David

The name of your business is one of the most important decisions you will make as a business owner— after all, it is the foundation of your brand. Read this article to learn some business name terminology, as well as some tips on the naming process and what makes a good business name.

Business Name Basics
“Business name” is a broad term. A business name could refer to your company’s legal name, fictitious business name, or your trademark. If you’re confused by business naming terminology we don’t blame you.  Here’s a breakdown of what these different terms mean:

01 | Legal Business Name
Your legal name is your official business name, found in your articles of incorporation or organization.

02 | Fictitious Business name (“DBA”)
Some companies have a fictitious business name; some don’t. If you do business under the same name as your legal business name, you don’t have a fictitious business name. On the other hand, if the name you do business under, the one the public knows you by, is different than your legal business name, then this is your fictitious business name, and you’ll need to register it. This is sometimes referred to as your DBA “doing business as” (DBA) name.

In California, you must register your fictitious business name at the county level, typically with the county clerk’s office. Each county differs in filing requirements and fees, so be sure to call or google your county clerk’s office to find out your particular requirements. Most counties require you to publish your fictitious business name statement in a local publication to adequately register. Typically, your fictitious business name must be renewed every five years.

If you know your company will not be doing business under your legal name, you can register your fictitious business name at formation. Or, if down the road, you want to use a different name other than your legal business name you can register your fictitious business name then.

03 | Trademark
A trademark is any word, phrase, design, or symbol used to market a product or service. If your company name is used to market your goods or services, you may be able to register it as a trademark. Read more on trademark registration here.

In today’s digital world, owning a trademark can be an invaluable brand asset—whether it be a trademark in your business name, business product, or business tagline. After all, customers recognize brands. Thus a good business name should be trademark protectable.

Naming Process
Have fun with the naming process! Brainstorm. Make a running list of potential business names, and recognize it is a process—the perfect name will not magically come to you overnight, so be patient. Think of ideas, symbols, sounds and images that you want your business name to invoke. Once you’ve narrowed it down, ask friends, family, and potential customers what they think of your top names, and what associations these names invoke.

As you come up with a list of possible names, you’ll want to do a preliminary search as to whether the domain name is available and also whether other businesses operate under a similar name and sell similar goods or provide similar services in your geographic region. This is the beginning of what is known as clearing your trademark; trademark clearance simply means you’ve taken steps to ensure your business can use your brand name or mark without infringing on someone else’s trademark rights in the mark. There are many layers to the trademark clearance process, it starts with a preliminary search and hopefully ends with a successful registration of your mark with the USPTO. As always, we’re available to help you with the trademark clearance and registration process or simply to help you determine if your business name is trademark protectable.

What Makes a Good Business Name?
The right name connects with the people you want to reach. It resonates with them—consciously or subconsciously. It creates an image, an idea, or an experience in their head. Here are some tips on what makes a good business name:

  • Memorable: A good name is easy and memorable. It’s easy to pronounce and easy to spell.
  • Protectable: A good name can be trademarked, and a domain name is available for it.
  • Marketable: A good name is visually attractive. You can present it well in text, in a graphic, or a logo.
Related Articles

10 Steps to Form Your Business
Trademark 101 – Protect Your Brand
Trademark Registrations: The 3 Step Analysis
Obtaining that Coveted Handle

Disclaimer: Although this article may be considered advertising under applicable law and ethical rules, the information in this article is presented for informational purposes only. Nothing herein should be taken as legal advice, and this content does not form an attorney-client relationship. If you would like further information, Wilkinson Mazzeo would love to hear from you, so please feel free to reach out with any questions!

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