North Carolina LLC Name SearchWhen planning to start a North Carolina 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 North Carolina, 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 North Carolina 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 North Carolina 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 Secretary of State ID, which may be necessary for 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 North Carolina 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 North Carolina LLC Name Search

When you’re ready to search a name, whether you’re checking for name availability or looking for a particular business, head over to the Secretary of State’s Business Search page. This is a quick and easy way to find specific companies and names.

If you’ve come up with a great LLC name and you need to see if anyone beat you to it, you can check its availability by following these steps:

  1. Choose “Company” from the first drop-down box
  2. Choose “Exact” from the second drop-down box
  3. Enter your desired name in the search bar
  4. Click the “Search” button

One of two things will happen. You will either find a list of results, which means your name is taken and you’ll need to come up with a different one. Or, you won’t find any matches, which means that you’re free to reserve it or use it on your Articles of Organization.

But maybe you’re already established and looking to contact another business. If so, you can use the same search tool, but you have a few more options. The most common method is to search by the business’ full or partial name, but you can also search by registered agent name, company official name, or assumed name. Just choose the appropriate option from the drop-down box, enter your search term, and hit the button. Then, click any result to find the following information:

  • Legal Name
  • Secretary of State ID
  • Business Status
  • Annual Report Status
  • Citizenship (Domestic or Foreign)
  • Date of Formation
  • Registered Agent Name
  • Mailing Address
  • Principal Office Address
  • Company Official(s)

This information is incredibly useful whether you’re trying to contact another business or check up on your LLC’s information.

What if My Name Is Unavailable?

So, you went to the Business 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 North Carolina), 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.

Foreign LLCs have to follow a different process. Let’s say your LLC has already been operating under an established name in other states but it’s unavailable in North Carolina. In this case, you would need to register a fictitious name for use in the state. Fortunately, registering this name isn’t hard. You only need to declare your fictitious name in section 1 of the Application for Certificate of Authority when you foreign qualify your business.

How to Make a North Carolina LLC Name Distinguishable

Don’t forget that North Carolina, like other states, has rules for business names, both actual and alternate. Before you choose a name, make sure that it:

  • Uses a term that designates its business type, like “limited liability company,” “limited company,” “L.L.C.,” “LLC,” “L.C.,” or “LC.”
  • Doesn’t use any of the Secretary of State’s “prohibited words.” Find a full list here.
  • Is distinguishable from all other names reserved or registered with the Secretary of State.

This raises a question: what makes a name distinguishable? If your name is unavailable, you’ll likely want to find a way to make it unique without getting rid of it entirely. According to section 04.0503 of the North Carolina Administrative Code, changes to the following name elements are NOT enough to make it distinct:

  • Articles (“a,” “an,” and “the”)
  • Conjunctions
  • Prepositions
  • Punctuation
  • Spacing
  • Spelling out numerals
  • Business type indicators like LLC or Ltd.

Essentially, to create a fully distinguishable name, you must change the name itself, not just the syntax. Instead, try rearranging keywords, adding/removing new keywords, adding prefixes or suffixes, finding synonyms, or using unique spellings. This way, you can create a distinct name that’s fairly similar to your original.

What’s Next?

What you do next depends entirely on what your goal is. If you’re checking for name availability and your name is free in North Carolina, you can proceed to reserve it and use it on your Articles of Organization.

You may want to protect your name idea while you prepare to start your LLC, and you can do so by filing a name reservation. For a $30 fee, you’ll receive 120 days of exclusive rights to that name. Or, if your business is ready to go, you can simply use the name on your Articles of Organization, which will automatically register it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which words are restricted from usage for LLC names in North Carolina?

There are about two dozen prohibited words for North Carolina business names. If you want to use any of them, you’ll need to get permission from the relevant state agency. Thankfully, the state makes it easy to figure out. Just visit this page and scroll down to the section on “Word Prohibitions” for all the details.

Is it necessary to reserve my business name before forming my North Carolina LLC?

No. In fact, Alabama is the only state that requires entrepreneurs to reserve a business name before forming an LLC. In North Carolina and the other 48 states, this is an optional and largely unnecessary step.

How many small businesses are there in North Carolina today?

The state of North Carolina is home to nearly 835,000 small businesses. Entrepreneurs of all backgrounds and business types find that North Carolina is a great place to own and operate a small business.

What are the top small business resources and websites in North Carolina?

The North Carolina chapter of the Small Business and Technology Development Center is a great place to start, as they offer a wide variety of tools and resources for North Carolina LLCs. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s North Carolina District Office is another valuable resource, and the state’s Economic Development Partnership also has plenty of good info.

What Is the Total Expected Cost of Operating an LLC in North Carolina?

The overall costs of operating a North Carolina 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.

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