When planning to start a New York 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 New York, 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 New York 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 New York 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 Department of State ID, which is required for certain 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 New York 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 New York LLC Name Search
There are two different ways to perform a business name search: by mail and online. Which one you use depends entirely on your goal.
The New York Department of State maintains a searchable “Corporation & Business Entity Database” where you can search for existing businesses. This may seem like the easiest way to check for name availability, but unfortunately, it won’t give you official results. Instead, you must submit a written request with your proposed name to:
Department of State
Division of Corporations
One Commerce Plaza
99 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12231
On the other hand, when looking for a specific piece of business information, the Corporation & Business Entity Database is for you. Simply enter the company’s full or partial name in the search bar, then choose “Begins with,” “Contains,” or “Partial” from the dropdown box. Click the “Search the Database” button and scan the results. You can click on any of them to access the following information:
- Entity Name
- Department of State ID
- Initial Filing Date
- State of Jurisdiction
- Entity Type (LLC, Corporation, etc.)
- Entity Status
- Address for Process
- Registered Agent Name
- Registered Agent Address
- Name History
- Stock Information (if applicable)
This information comes in handy if you’re either trying to contact another business or check to confirm your LLC’s information is up to date.
What If My Name Is Unavailable?
So you mailed in a name availability request with your proposed name, received a response and there it was: your precious name, already in use. What now?
If your LLC is domestic (formed in New York), 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.
Is your LLC coming to New York from another state? For foreign entities, the process is slightly different. Your LLC has already been operating under an established name in other states, but if that name is unavailable in New York, you will need to designate a “fictitious name,” or a name that your LLC will use only for in-state business activities. The good news is that declaring a fictitious name is easy. You only need to include it on your Application for Authority when you foreign qualify your LLC.
How to Make a New York LLC Name Distinguishable
Whether you’re registering an actual or fictitious name, it must adhere to New York’s business naming requirements. According to the Consolidated Laws, Section 204, your LLC name must:
- Contain the words “Limited Liability Company,” or the abbreviation “L.L.C.” or “LLC”
- Not use any of the words prohibited by the state or any restricted words without meeting the appropriate requirements. Find a full list here.
- Be distinguishable from all other registered and reserved business entity names on file with the Department of State
But what determines distinguishability? If you’re looking to make your name unique, making changes to the following elements won’t be enough on their own:
- Singular, plural, and possessive forms of the same word.
- Verb tense
- Articles – “a,” “an,” or “the”
- Conjunctions like “and” and “or”
- Common abbreviations
- Special characters
- Business type indicators like LLC, Ltd., Inc., or LP
- Derivatives of the same keyword
Essentially, to create a fully distinguishable name, you must change the name itself, not just the syntax. To create a truly unique name, you must make significant changes to one or more of the name’s keywords. Try rearranging words, adding or removing keywords, using different spelling, or finding synonyms. This will give you a distinguishable name without having to completely scrap your idea.
What you do next depends entirely on what your goal. If you’re checking for name availability and your name is free in New York, you can proceed to reserve it and use it on your Articles of Organization.
Reserving a New York business name costs $20 and it holds your name for 60 days. But it’s most useful if you aren’t ready to start your business yet. If your LLC is ready to go, use the name on your Articles of Organization instead and it will automatically register your name.
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.