When planning to start a North Dakota 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 Dakota, 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 Dakota 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 Dakota 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 system ID number, which you may need 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 Dakota 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 Dakota LLC Name Search
It’s time to search for a business name. You can use the Secretary of State’s Business Search tool whether you need to check name availability or find a specific business.
If you’ve been sitting on a perfect business name, but you don’t know if someone’s already using it, enter it into the search bar and click the magnifying glass icon. The screen may populate with results and if it does, your name is already in use. North Dakota also restricts the use of “deceptively similar” names, so if you find a name that’s very close to yours, you may need to change it. On the other hand, if no results come up you’re all good! The name is free and you can reserve it or use it on your Articles of Organization.
This search tool is versatile. You can also use it to search for a specific business. Enter the company’s full name, partial name, or system ID and examine the results. Clicking on any of these results will reveal the company’s:
- Legal Name
- Filing Type
- Business Status
- Annual Report Standing
- Registered Agent Standing
- Standing (Other)
- State of Formation
- Term of Duration
- Initial Filing Date
- Principal Address
- Mailing Address
- Annual Report Due Date
- Registered Agent Name
- Registered Agent Address
This information is helpful when you’re trying to contact another business, but it’s especially valuable in checking your own business status. You can see if your Annual Reports and registered agent are current and find your next report due date. It’s a great tool for keeping your LLC in good standing.
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 Dakota), 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 expanding to North Dakota from another state? If so, your name situation is a little more complicated. Your LLC has been operating under a previously established name in other states, but if that name is unavailable in North Dakota, you will need to register a “trade name.” This is the name that you would use for all your LLC’s in-state business activities and you should register it at the time that you foreign qualify your business.
How to Make a North Dakota LLC Name Distinguishable
As you consider your LLC’s actual or trade name, don’t forget that North Dakota has specific requirements for business names. The LLC Act, Section 10-32.1-11 mandates that your business name must:
- Contain the words “limited liability company,” or the abbreviation “L.L.C.” or “LLC”
- Be expressed in letters or characters used in the English language
- Not use words implying unlawful activity or any other activity other than what is specified in its Articles of Organization
- Be distinguishable and not deceptively similar to other business names registered or reserved with the Secretary of State
But say your LLC name is unavailable and you don’t want to lose it completely. How do you make it distinguishable? The North Dakota Secretary of State and LLC Act don’t provide specific directions, but typically, making changes to the following items won’t cut it:
- Business type designators like LLC or Ltd. (New Company LLC and New Company L.L.C. are considered the same)
- The articles “a,” “an,” or “the.”
- Conjunctions and prepositions
- Special characters
Essentially, to create a fully distinguishable name, you must change the name itself, not just the syntax. If your name is unavailable and you need to distinguish it, try rearranging keywords, adding or removing keywords, finding synonyms, or using unique spellings. This will make your name unique without getting rid of it entirely. Remember that North Dakota doesn’t allow “deceptively similar” names either, so be sure to check with the business search even after making changes.
What you do next depends entirely on what your goal. If you’re checking for name availability and your name is free in North Dakota, you can proceed to reserve it and use it on your Articles of Organization.
When you’ve found an available, distinguishable LLC name, you may want to protect it while you prepare to start your business. You can place a 12-month name reservation by paying a fee of $10, and you’ll have sole ownership of the name during that time. But if your LLC is ready to go, it’s more efficient to 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.