When planning to start a Montana 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 Montana, 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 Montana 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 Articles of Organization and started your Montana 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 previous filing information, which is helpful in keeping your business compliant with the state.
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 Montana 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 a Montana LLC Name Search
There may be a number of reasons to search for a business name, but there’s only one method to actually do it: the Montana Business Search.
For name availability, enter your desired name in the search bar and click the “Search” button. The page may populate with results, which means that your name is in use and you’ll need to brainstorm some other options. If the search returns no results, congratulations! Your name is available and you’re free to reserve it or use it on your Articles of Organization.
Perhaps your goal isn’t name availability, but a specific piece of business information instead. Using the same search function, enter the full or partial business name in the search bar. You can narrow the search by entering a registration date or business status (active or inactive). Select on any of the results to see the following information:
- Legal Business Name
- Business Status
- Known In Montana Name (if applicable)
- Registration Date
- Expiration Date
- Business Description
- Applicant Type
- Mailing Address
- Filing History
This information is especially useful if you’re trying to contact another business or check up on your own LLC’s status.
What If My Name Is Unavailable?
So you went to the Montana Business 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 Montana), 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.
It’s a little bit trickier if you run an out-of-state LLC. Your foreign business already has a name it’s been using in other states, but if that name is unavailable in Montana, you must designate an alternate name for in-state business activities. Fortunately, this process isn’t difficult. You can register your alternate name on your application when you file for foreign qualification.
How to Make a Montana LLC Name Distinguishable
As you search for name availability and/or come up with alternate name options, remember that Montana has certain business name requirements, under which your LLC name must:
- Contain a term that identifies its business type, like “Limited Liability Company” or “Limited Company” or the abbreviations “L.L.C.”, “L.C.”, “LLC”, or “LC”
- Not use any words that would imply it’s a business type other than an LLC. Like “Corporation,” “Partnership,” or “Incorporated”
- Be distinguishable from all other business entity names on file with the Montana Secretary of State.
Your next question may be: what does it mean for a name to be distinguishable? According to the Administrative Rules of Montana, Section 44.5.131, changes to the following elements do NOT make a name distinguishable:
- Punctuation marks
- Special characters like @, #, $, and %
- The articles “a,” “an,” or “the”
- Business type identifiers like LLC or Ltd. (New Company LLC and New Company Ltd. are considered identical)
- Arabic vs. Roman numerals (4 vs. IV)
- Singular vs. plural nouns
Essentially, to create a fully distinguishable name, you must change the name itself, not just the syntax. In the event that your name is unavailable, you might not want to scrap it completely. Here are smaller changes that will make it distinguishable:
- Varied key words (other than articles, prepositions, conjunctions, and business type identifiers)
- Rearranged words
- Adding geographic destinations
- Phonetic similarities
- Unique spellings
For more information on name distinguishability, see Section 44.5.131 of the Administrative Rules of Montana.
What you do next depends entirely on what your goal. If you’re checking for name availability and your name is free in Montana, you can proceed to reserve it and use it on your Articles of Organization.
If your name is free, but you’re not ready to start your business, you have the option to apply for a name reservation. For a $10 fee, you can hold your business name for 120 days. Or, if you’re ready to start your LLC, you can use that name on your Articles of Organization and it will be registered automatically.
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.