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, 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 Massachusetts, 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 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 is 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 member or manager 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
- Member/Manager 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, 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 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 either form your LLC or reserve the name for future use.
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 is. 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.
✔ 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 Massachusetts?
Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts LLC?
No. In fact, Alabama is the only state that requires entrepreneurs to reserve a business name before forming an LLC. In Massachusetts and the other 48 states, this is an optional and largely unnecessary step.
How many small businesses are there in Massachusetts today?
The state of Massachusetts is home to nearly 600,000 small businesses. Entrepreneurs of all backgrounds and business types find that Massachusetts is a great place to own and operate a small business.
What are the top small business resources and websites in Massachusetts?
The Massachusetts chapter of the Small Business Development Center is a great place to start, as they offer a wide variety of tools and resources for Massachusetts LLCs. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts?
The overall costs of operating a Massachusetts 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.