When planning to start an Iowa 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, 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 Iowa, a lot of names to check. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to go about it: performing an LLC name search.
Quick Note: If you’d like to save time, an LLC formation service (like LegalZoom and ZenBusiness) can perform an LLC name search and register the business on your behalf. No need to navigate confusing state-website portals or file anything yourself.
Reasons to Perform an LLC Name Search
Checking for Iowa 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 Organization and started your Iowa 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 Business Number (among other important information) which you may need for certain 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 Iowa 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 Secretary of State already has on file. A name search will take care of this for you.
How to Perform an Iowa LLC Name Search
The Secretary of State offers a “one-stop shop” for business name searches. Whether you’re seeking information about a specific business or just checking a name’s availability, you can use the “Business Entity Search” function.
The page is pretty simple. It only has two search bars: one for business names and one for business numbers, and you can use either. However, if you’re just checking availability, enter your full desired name in the “Business Name” bar and hit “Search.” See any results? If not, the name is free, so go ahead and use it on a name reservation or your Certificate of Organization. But if the search yields any results, sorry! Your name is already in use and you’ll need to come up with something different.
On the other hand, if you’re seeking a specific business, you can either search for its full or partial name or its business number. Click on any business from the search results and you’ll find the following information:
- Business Number
- Legal Name
- Business Type
- State of Formation
- Expiration Date
- Effective Date
- Filing Date
- Legal Name
- Fictitious Name (if applicable)
- Registered Ant Name
- Registered Agent Address
- Home Office Address
You won’t need this information when performing a simple name availability check, but it can be quite useful for when you’re trying to contact another business or check up on your own.
What If My Name Is Unavailable?
So you went to the Business Entity Search, you plugged in your desired name, you hit search, and there it was: your precious name, already in use. What now?
If your LLC is domestic (formed in Iowa), 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 reserve it.
For foreign LLCs, the process is a little different. If your LLC is from another state, you’ve already been operating under a particular name there. But if that name is unavailable in Iowa, you’ll need to register a “fictitious name,” which you’ll use only for your Iowa business activities. When you foreign qualify your LLC, you’ll find a space designated for a fictitious name on your Application for Certificate of Authority. Entering a name in that space will register it with the Secretary of State.
How to Make an Iowa LLC Name Distinguishable
Remember that Iowa, like other states, has specific business name requirements, and they apply to all actual and fictitious names. For LLCs in particular, a business name must:
- Contain one of the following terms: “limited liability company,” “limited company,” “L.L.C.,” “LLC,” “L.C.,” or “LC”
- Be available and distinguishable from every other entity name registered with the Iowa Secretary of State.
You be asking: how do you make a name “distinguishable”? Good question. The state doesn’t provide specific methods for making a name distinguishable, but typically, the following changes aren’t enough on their own:
- Business type indicators like LLC, L.L.C, Inc., LP, etc. (New Company LLC, New Company L.L.C., New Company Inc., and New Company LP are all considered the same)
- Articles like “a,” “an,” or “the.”
- Singular vs. plural nouns
- The words “and,” and “or”
Essentially, to create a fully distinguishable name, you must change the name itself, not just the syntax. There are, however, some strategies that will make your name unique without changing it completely. If your desired name is unavailable, try finding synonyms, adding or removing words, rearranging words, using abbreviations or acronyms, or using unique spellings. This way, you can keep a name that’s still similar to your original.
What you do next depends entirely on what your goal. If you’re checking for name availability and your name is free in Iowa, you can proceed to reserve it and use it on your Certificate of Organization.
To protect your name while you sort out formation paperwork, you can reserve it for 120 days by filing the appropriate application and paying a $10 fee. But if you’re ready to start your business right away, it’s better just to use the name on your Certificate of Organization, which will automatically register it with the state.
Need Help Starting an LLC?
Like we mentioned earlier, an LLC formation service can take care of all the paperwork for you. Using a formation service guarantees that your filings will be completed and submitted correctly. It also eliminates the stress of doing it yourself and gives you more time to develop your business plan, network, or just relax.