When 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, 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, 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 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:
- Choose “Company” from the first dropdown box
- Choose “Exact” from the second dropdown box
- Enter your desired name in the search bar
- 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 dropdown 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 if 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, 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 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”)
- 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 you do next depends entirely on what your goal. 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.
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.