Coming up with a business name can be a free-wheeling creative process, like inspiration striking while you wait at a traffic stop or waking up at the crack of dawn with an idea on your mind.
But as satisfying as this can be, the process of naming an LLC can be somewhat complicated. There are rules and procedures to follow, laws to know, and mistakes to avoid.
Before you go using that midnight-stroke-of-genius name on signage, advertising, business cards, and more, read through this guide to ensure that your name is available, unique, and, most importantly, compliant.
Once you’ve chosen the perfect name for your LLC, be sure to secure the domain name for it as well. Register it quickly with GoDaddy so that nobody can take it.
The Legal Aspects of Naming an LLC
Selecting an LLC name might seem like an easy, carefree step, but there are laws surrounding it. Break them and your name and formation documents will be rejected. Each state has its own rules and regulations for LLCs, but the laws regarding LLC names are fairly similar across the board. Keep these guidelines in mind and your company won’t run into any trouble with the state government.
First and foremost, your state doesn’t want any confusion between businesses, so your LLC’s name can’t be the same as any other already on their records. On top of that, many states have laws prohibiting businesses from using a name deemed too similar to an existing entity either.
Your business name must be entirely unique and cannot infringe upon any copyrights. Every state has a business search function (usually on their website) that you can use to determine whether your desired name is available. If it’s not, you’ll need to get creative and come up with something new and unique.
Every LLC name must also include either the initials “LLC” or the phrase “limited liability company.” Every state requires that one of these options needs to be part of every LLC name to designate its specific legal business structure.
This also means that your LLC name can’t falsely imply another business type. So don’t try to form a limited liability company with a name containing the words “incorporated” or “corporation,” or the abbreviations “Inc.” or “Corp.”
Finally, your name cannot include any terminology that refers to specialized professional companies. In other words, if you aren’t running a financial institution, or a medical facility, or a law office, do not include words like “bank,” “hospital,” “lawyer,” etc.
The Practical Aspects of Naming an LLC
We’re past the mandatory requirements, the ones that can land you in hot water with your state. By this point, you’re likely confident that your name is available and legal. But there are some practical naming aspects to consider as well, mostly revolving around marketability.
You never want to confuse your customers or mislead them regarding the nature of your business. Short business names are almost always preferable to longer ones, and it’s also best to avoid any obscure, easily-misspelled words or phrases.
Your LLC name should clearly identify its business purpose so that anyone who sees it will automatically know what you’re all about. For example, if you’re an electrician, you should probably indicate that in your business name. A name like “Smith Electric, LLC” plainly indicates what clients should expect from your business. Using a name like “Smith Auto Repair” would simply be misleading and untrue.
If your business centers on strong values, it’s wise to incorporate them into your LLC name. Although you might want to avoid divisive terms that conjure up concepts of religion or politics (unless your business specifically serves such markets), as they can drive customers away. Still, there are plenty of instances where indicating or implying your company values is a good idea. For example, an environmentally-friendly business could use the word “green” in its name to show their values while also informing customers about how they operate.
You want people to be talking about your company, so you’ll also want to consider how its name sounds when you say it aloud. Before settling on a particular name, say it out loud to yourself a few times. Does it roll off the tongue? Or is it cumbersome? A name that’s easier to say is one that will stick in customers’ minds better.
Mistakes to Avoid When Naming Your LLC
There are plenty of bad business names out there. You’ve probably seen some of them yourself. Just search “bad business names” on Google and you’ll find a whole bunch of listicles about them. You don’t want your LLC name showing up in one of these articles, so be careful to avoid some of these common pitfalls.
The biggest mistake entrepreneurs make when naming an LLC is getting tunnel-vision on one name. If your desired name isn’t available with your state of formation, you could be out of luck, as you’ll need to come up with something new and unique on the fly. Accommodate for the possibility of your name being taken by creating a shortlist of several ideas you like. In doing so, you’ll have multiple options ready if your first choice is unavailable and you won’t have to settle for a name that doesn’t excite you.
Another issue is not searching your state’s business entity database to determine your name’s eligibility. As mentioned earlier, every state has an online database of all its registered business names, so there’s really no excuse to be unaware. In fact, we have a guide to conducting business name searches in all 50 states that makes the process even easier.
And don’t forget trademarks and copyrights! Entrepreneurs often fail to check these. Even if a name isn’t taken in your state, this doesn’t always mean it’s automatically available for you to use. There could be copyright issues for all or part of your name. It isn’t common, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
In today’s business landscape, most customers will find your business online, not because they happen to stroll past it. So, it’s crucial that you choose a name that translates well to the Internet. You want it to have a memorable URL so it’s easy to find. If your name is long and complicated, customers may have trouble remembering it and/or searching for it. Plus, you’ll want to make sure that your desired URL is available so that you don’t have to choose one that’s too different from your actual business name.
The main point is this: naming a limited liability company isn’t quite as simple as it might seem. You can’t just come up with a name and start slapping it on all of your business paperwork and marketing. There are compliance issues to consider, as well as practical ones, and there are quite a few mistakes to avoid along the way.
But don’t let this hamper your creativity! You can still work around all of the practicalities to come up with an informative, memorable, unique name. And once you do, if it checks all the boxes outlined here, you might want to reserve it, especially if you’re not quite ready to form your LLC. This way, it will be safe and waiting for you when you file your Articles of Organization.
If at any point you need help forming your LLC, two of the top LLC services we recommend are IncFile and ZenBusiness. We researched and reviewed 15+ LLC services and these two came out on top, so you really can’t go wrong with either one.