When planning to start a Delaware 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 Delaware, 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 Delaware 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 Certificate of Formation and started your Delaware 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 File Number, which you may need for future filings.
3) Registered Agent 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 Delaware registered agent name and office address, readily available through a name search.
4) Maintaining Current Business Information
When modifying your LLC’s information – like changing your registered agent or principal address to a member or a registered agent service – you will want to confirm the information that the Department of State already has on file. A name search will take care of this for you.
How to Perform a Delaware LLC Name Search
To check if a name is in use, the Department of State provides a “Name Availability Search.” Simply enter your exact desired business name in the “Entity Name” section. It will let you know if your name is available. If it isn’t, you’ll need to find a way to distinguish it. But if your name is available, you’re free to reserve it or use it on your Certificate of Formation.
Your search will yield results, and you can click on any business name to access the following information:
- File Number
- Entity Name
- Entity Type (LLC, Corporation, etc.)
- Residency (domestic or foreign)
- Formation Date
- State of Residence
- Registered Agent Name
- Registered Agent Address
This information doesn’t apply if you’re simply checking a name’s availability. But at some point in the life of your LLC, you may need it, and you’ll know exactly where to find it.
What if My Name Is Unavailable?
So, you went to the Name Availability Search, plugged in your desired name, hit search, and there it was: your precious name, already in use. What now?
If your LLC is domestic (formed in Delaware), 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.
The process for foreign entities is somewhat different. Your business has already been operating under a registered name in other states, but what if that name is unavailable in Delaware? You will need to designate a “fictitious name” on your “Certificate of Registration.” This is a name that your business will use only in Delaware after foreign qualifying in the state.
How to Make a Delaware LLC Name Distinguishable
Like other states, Delaware has specific restrictions on its business names. Whether your LLC is domestic or foreign, its name must:
- Contain the words Limited Liability Company or an abbreviation like LLC or L.L.C.
- Contain a translation (only on the application) if the name uses words from a foreign language
- Not use any reference to the word “bank” or terms that might indicate a banking affiliation without approval from the Delaware Banking Commission
- Not use any words that the Secretary of State deems lewd, vulgar, or racist
- Be distinguishable and available in the Delaware Secretary of State records
There aren’t specific instructions on how to make a Delware LLC name distinguishable, although typically, the following changes do NOT make a name unique:
- Designators like LLC or L.L.C. (New Company LLC and New Company L.L.C. are considered the same)
- Articles like “a,” “an,” or “the”
- The words “and” and “or”
Essentially, to create a fully distinguishable name, you must change the name itself, not just the syntax. If your desired name is already in use, try changing the spelling, rearranging the words, using a synonym, or adding a word. Any of these will allow you to keep a similar name while making it distinguishable.
What you do next depends entirely on what your goal is. If you’re checking for name availability and your name is free in Delaware, you can proceed to reserve it or use it on your Certificate of Formation.
You can reserve your desired name for 120 days by paying a $75 fee. Or, instead of applying for a reservation, you can jump right to filing the Certificate of Formation, which will automatically register your name.
✔ 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 Delaware?
There really aren’t very many restrictions regarding which words you can use in your Delaware LLC’s name, especially compared to some states that have exhaustive lists of prohibited words. In Delaware, you just need to avoid words that imply association with the banking industry, words that are lewd, vulgar, or racist, and those that refer to different business entity types (like corporation, partnership, etc.).
Is it necessary to reserve my business name before forming my Delaware LLC?
No. In fact, Alabama is the only state that requires entrepreneurs to reserve a business name before forming an LLC. In Delaware and the other 48 states, this is an optional and largely unnecessary step.
How many small businesses are there in Delaware today?
The state of Delaware is home to more than 77,000 small businesses. Entrepreneurs of all backgrounds and business types find that Delaware is a great place to own and operate a small business.
What are the top small business resources and websites in Delaware?
The Delaware chapter of the Small Business Development Center is a great place to start, as they offer a wide variety of tools and resources for Delaware LLCs. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Delaware District Office is another valuable resource, and the state’s small business resource page also has plenty of good info.
What Is the Total Expected Cost of Operating an LLC in Delaware?
The overall costs of operating a Delaware 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.