When planning to start an Ohio 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 Ohio, 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 Ohio 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 Ohio 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 entity number, which may be necessary for future filings.
3) Statutory 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 Ohio statutory 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 statutory agent or principal address to a member or a statutory 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 an Ohio LLC Name Search
Whether you’re checking a name’s availability, looking for a specific business, or confirming your own LLC’s status, you can use the Secretary of State’s Business Name Search.
If you’ve got a perfect business name in mind but need to see if it’s already in use, choose “Business Name” or “Exact Business Name” from the Business Search dropdown box, enter your desired name, and click the search button. See any results? If so, your name is already in and you’ll need to come up with a new one. If not, congratulations! The name is free for you to reserve or use on your Articles of Organization.
But perhaps name availability isn’t your goal. Maybe you just want to find information on another business. In that case, you have a few different options. Most likely, you’ll use the company’s full or partial name to perform the search, but you can also search by prior business name, statutory agent, organizer/incorporator, or entity number. Once you’ve got your list of results, click the “Show Details” button next to any company and you’ll find its:
- Entity Number
- Legal Name
- Filing Type
- Business Status
- Filing Date
- Expiration Date
- Statutory Agent Name
- Statutory Agent Address
- Filing History
This information makes it easy to get in touch with another business or confirm that your LLC’s information is up to date.
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 Ohio), 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 entities have a slightly different process, however. If you run a foreign LLC, you’ve already been transacting business under an established name in other states, but if that name is unavailable in Ohio, you will need to declare a “fictitious name.” This is simply the name that your LLC will use for all its Ohio business activities, and it’s not hard to register one. All you need to do is include it on your registration application when you foreign qualify your LLC.
How to Make an Ohio LLC Name Distinguishable
Keep in mind that Ohio, like other states, has certain business name requirements and you must adhere to them whether you’re registering a real or fictitious name. Make sure that your LLC name:
- Uses one of the following terms: “limited liability company,” “LLC,” “L.L.C.,” “limited,” “ltd.,” or “ltd”
- Doesn’t imply that your company is affiliated with a governmental agency
- Doesn’t use profanity or slurs
- Is distinguishable from all other business entity registered and reserved names on file with the Ohio Secretary of state
You might be wondering what the state means by “distinguishable,” especially if your name is unavailable. Fortunately, the Secretary of State website provides a few pointers. According to this page, making changes to the following elements is NOT enough to distinguish a name:
- Contractions (can’t vs. cannot)
- The articles “a,” “an,” and “the”
- Conjunctions like “and,” “but,” or “or”
- Verb tense
- Business type indicators like LLC or Ltd. (New Company LLC and New Company Ltd. are considered the same)
Essentially, to create a fully distinguishable name, you must change the name itself, not just the syntax. If you don’t want to scrap your name completely but need to distinguish it, try adding letters/words, spelling out numerals, rearranging words, using unique spellings, or finding synonyms. Any of these will make your name unique while keeping it fairly similar to your original idea.
What you do next depends entirely on what your goal. If you’re checking for name availability and your name is free in Ohio, you can proceed to reserve it and use it on your Articles of Organization.
Once you’ve discovered that your perfect business name is available, you might want to place a hold on it while you prepare to start your LLC. If so, you can file a name reservation and pay a $39 fee, which gives you exclusive rights to that name for 180 days. However, if you’re ready to start your business right away, you’re better off simply using the name on your Articles of Organization, as this 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.