When planning to start a Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts, 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 Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts LLC, you can periodically check its status by searching for your existing name. This will confirm your business’ good standing with the Commonwealth and provide your entity ID number, which you may need for future business filings.
3) Resident 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 Massachusetts resident 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 resident agent or principal address to a member or a resident agent service – you will want to confirm the information that the Secretary of the Commonwealth already has on file. A name search will take care of this for you.
How to Perform a Massachusetts LLC Name Search
The Secretary of the Commonwealth website has multiple name search options to help you find what you need, no matter what it is.
There are two steps to performing a name availability check. From the page linked above, click “Search the Corporate Database” and you’ll find yourself on the business entity search page. Simply enter your desired name in the first search bar and click “Search Corporations” at the bottom. This may reveal a list of matching businesses, which means your name in use. Otherwise, it will return no results, which means your name is free! But you’ll also need to make sure that name isn’t already reserved either, so you’ll have to search for it on the reserved names database as well.
If you’re looking for a particular business, you only need to do so on the business entity search, not the reserved names database. You can search by entering a full or partial name, or – if you don’t know the name – you can search by officer/director name, ID number, or filing number. Then click on any of the results to find the following information:
- Exact Name
- Entity Type (LLC, Corporation, etc.)
- ID Number
- Old ID Number
- Date of Organization
- Date of Dissolution (if applicable)
- Last Date Certain
- Current Fiscal Month/Day
- Previous Fiscal Month/Day
- Principal Office Address
- Registered Agent Name
- Registered Agent Address
- Officers/Director Names and Addresses
This information is incredibly useful if you’re looking for ways to contact another business or confirm the information on file for 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 Massachusetts), 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.
But if you run a foreign LLC that’s expanding to Massachusetts, the process is a little different. You’ve already been operating under an established name in other states, but if that name is unavailable in Massachusetts, you’ll need to designate a different one for doing business there. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to do so. When you foreign qualify and file an Application for Registration, there will be a space to list an alternate business name. Provide one on the form and it will be registered to your LLC.
How to Make a Massachusetts LLC Name Distinguishable
Remember that every Massachusetts business name must comply with the Commonwealth’s specific naming requirements. According to the LLC Act Section 3, your LLC name must:
- Use the words “limited liability company,” or “limited company,” or one of the following abbreviations: “L.L.C.,” “L.C.,” “LLC,” or “LC.”
- Be distinct and distinguishable from every other business entity on record with the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
You may be asking, especially if your desired name is unavailable: “how do I make it distinguishable?” Good question. While the Commonwealth doesn’t give specific guidelines, typically, changing the following elements isn’t enough to make a name unique:
- Business Type Designators like LLC, Ltd., Inc., or LP (New Company LLC, New Company Ltd., New Company Inc., and New Company LP are all considered identical)
- The articles “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. In the case that you want to distinguish your name without replacing it entirely, try using unique spellings, adding prefixes/suffixes, adding or removing words, or rearranging words. These strategies will generate a unique name that’s still similar to your original one.
What you do next depends entirely on what your goal. If you’re checking for name availability and your name is free in Massachusetts, you can proceed to reserve it and use it on your Certificate of Organization.
You can reserve an LLC name for 60 days in Massachusetts by filing the proper form and paying a $30 fee. This is a great option if you aren’t ready to start your LLC, but if your business is ready to go you can register your name instead by using it on your Certificate of Organization.
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.