When planning to start a California LLC, first comes your big idea, your product or service, the meat and potatoes of your business. After all, that’s how you’ll build a dream business.
But after the initial rush of deciding to take your idea to market, you have to answer an important and pressing question: “what do I call it?”
Every LLC needs a name, preferably a catchy one, and specifically one that isn’t already in use. After all, despite how clever it may be, you can’t steal someone else’s name.
“But,” you may ask, “how do I know if a name is already in use?” It’s a good question. There are a lot of businesses in California, and a lot of names to check. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to go about it: performing an LLC name search.
Reasons to Perform an LLC Name Search
Checking for California LLC name availability is the most common reason to perform a search, but it’s far from the only one. Here are a few other reasons you might search for a name:
1) Finding Similar Names
You don’t want potential customers confusing you with another company, especially if that company is a competitor. Your proposed name might be available, but there could also be multiple businesses out there with deceivingly similar ones. If you don’t want your LLC getting mixed up with other businesses, this might prompt you to find a new name.
2) Checking Your Business Status
Once you’ve filed the Articles of Organization and started your California LLC, you can periodically check its status by searching for your existing name. This will confirm your business’ good standing with the state and provide your Entity Number, which you may need for certain filings.
3) Agent for Service of Process Name and Office Information
At some point, you might need to send a business service of process. Or, more positively, you might want to partner with them. In either case, you’ll need their California agent for service of process name and office address, readily available through a name search.
4) Maintaining Current Business Information
When modifying your LLC’s information – like changing your agent for service of process or principal address to a member or a registered agent service – you will want to confirm the information that the Secretary of State already has on file. A name search will take care of this for you.
How to Perform a California LLC Name Search
The Secretary of State website has a simple Business Search page on which you can enter a full or partial business name to conduct a search.
If it is available, great! You can go ahead and reserve it or use it on your Articles of Organization. If it’s already in use, you’re out of luck, and you’ll need to come up with a new one.
If you’re seeking information on an existing business, select the business type (corporation or LLC/LP), then enter the full or partial business name (or its Entity Number), and it will return your results. If you provided an exact name or number, you’ll likely only receive one result, but if you provided a partial name or keyword, you may receive many.
Clicking any listed business will reveal the following information:
- Entity Number
- Entity Name
- Registration Date
- State of Jurisdiction
- Domestic or Foreign
- Status (active, canceled, etc.)
- Agent for Service of Process Name and Address
- Entity Address
- Filed Documents and Filing Dates
What if My Name Is Unavailable?
So, you went to the Business Search, plugged in your desired name, hit search, and found that your perfect name is already in use. What now?
If your LLC is domestic (formed in California), your only option is to start brainstorming ideas for a different one. Just don’t use one that’s too similar. Then, when you’ve found an acceptable, available name, go ahead and either form your LLC or reserve the name for future use.
There are some additional steps if you run a foreign LLC, though. You’ve already been operating under a business name in other states, but if that name is unavailable in California, you will need to provide an “alternate name.” This is the name that you will use in California only. To register an alternate name, provide it on your Application to Register when you file for foreign qualification.
How to Make a California LLC Name Distinguishable
All California business names, actual or alternate, registered or reserved, must adhere to the state’s naming requirements. They state that your LLC name must:
- End with “Limited Liability Company,” which may be abbreviated to L.L.C. or LLC.
- Not contain the words “bank,” “trust,” “trustee,” “incorporated,” “inc.,” “corporation,” “corp.,” “insurer,” or “insurance company,” or suggest that it’s an insurance or banking company.
- Be distinguishable from all other business entity names in the California Secretary of State record.
- Not be misleading to the public. For example, if you run a dry cleaner, your business name shouldn’t be “New Company Construction.”
But how do you make a name distinguishable? Fortunately, the state provides some guidelines. According to California Code Section 21005.5, a name is considered distinguishable only if it “contains one or more different letters or numerals or has a different sequence of the same letters or numerals that is plainly recognizable by means of sight by the Secretary of State.” This means that changes in capitalization, punctuation, articles, entity type identifiers, and/or spacing are not enough to distinguish one name from another.
Essentially, to create a fully distinguishable name, you must change the name itself, not just the syntax. Need a clever way to distinguish your name? Try using a unique spelling, rearranging the words, finding a synonym, or adding/subtracting a word. This way, your name will be distinguishable without changing it completely.
What you do next depends entirely on what your goal is. If you’re checking for name availability and your name is free in California, you can proceed to reserve it or use it on your Articles of Organization.
Reserving a California business name costs $10 and holds your name for 60 days. Or, you can use the name on your Articles of Organization when you start your LLC, which will register it automatically.
✔ Get The Best LLC Service
If you want to use a service to form your LLC, there are dozens of options. We invite you to check out our full list of the best available LLC formation services, but we’ll also share a couple of the most popular options below.
ZenBusiness (Starts at $0)
ZenBusiness is the best LLC formation service available. That said, ZenBusiness receives outstanding customer feedback, with more than 9,800 reviews available online and very few negative reviews among them.
LegalZoom (Starts at $79)
For most people, LegalZoom is the first name that comes to mind for LLC services due to their massive advertising budget. LegalZoom’s pricing and features may not compete on an equal playing field with ZenBusiness, but its brand power is notable and it receives good customer reviews.
For a side by side comparison, check out our LegalZoom vs ZenBusiness review.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which words are restricted from usage for LLC names in California?
California doesn’t have too many restrictions regarding the terms you can use in your business name, but it does have a few. For instance, you can’t use terms that refer to other business entity types, and you need to avoid terms that imply an association with banking, insurance, or government entities as well.
Is it necessary to reserve my business name before forming my California LLC?
No. In fact, Alabama is the only state that requires entrepreneurs to reserve a business name before forming an LLC. In California and the other 48 states, this is an optional and largely unnecessary step.
How many small businesses are there in California today?
The state of California is home to more than 4 million small businesses. Entrepreneurs of all backgrounds and business types find that California is a great place to own and operate a small business.
What are the top small business resources and websites in California?
The California Secretary of State has an excellent Business Resources page where you can find information about federal, state, and county agencies and programs for small businesses. The California chapter of the Small Business Development Center is also a great place to start, as are the California district offices of the U.S. Small Business Administration in Sacramento and Los Angeles.
What Is the Total Expected Cost of Operating an LLC in California?
The overall costs of operating a California LLC can vary considerably based on the specifics of your business. However, we created a helpful guide to help you identify and plan for every expense your LLC will face in this state.
Should I Use an LLC Service, Hire an Attorney, or Form My Own LLC?
The answer to this question lies in your personal preferences, but we can give some general pointers. An attorney will cost the most by a mile, but also provides expertise you won’t find with the other options. The DIY route is free of charge but can require quite a bit of legwork and provides no peace of mind that the process is being completed correctly.
Using an LLC service means your business will be formed by professionals who know what they’re doing, while also costing significantly less than a lawyer. This “best of both worlds” attribute is what makes LLC services our preferred option.