When planning to start a Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania, and a lot of names to check. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to go about it: performing an LLC name search.
Don’t forget to get your business’ domain name so nobody else can use it. This will protect your brand and make things much easier for you later. Secure it easily through GoDaddy.
Reasons to Perform an LLC Name Search
Checking for Pennsylvania 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 Certificate of Organization and started your Pennsylvania 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 required 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 Pennsylvania registered office information, readily available through a name search.
4) Maintaining Current Business Information
When modifying your LLC’s information – like changing your registered office or principal address to a member or a registered agent service – you will want to confirm the information that the Department of State already has on file. A name search will take care of this for you.
How to Perform a Pennsylvania LLC Name Search
You might be checking a name’s availability or you might be looking for a specific company. Either way, you’ve got a business name on your mind, and you can find it by using the Department of State’s Business Entity Search.
Even if you’ve decided on an LLC name, you need to find out if someone’s already using it before you can reserve or register it. On the Business Entity Search page, enter your desired name and click the “Search” button. If any results come up, your name is in use and you’ll need to decide on a different one. But if the search doesn’t return any results, go ahead and use it!
But the Business Entity Search is multifunctional. You can use it to find information on specific businesses. Simply enter the company’s full or partial business name and you should find a list of results. Click any one of them to access the following information:
- Entity Name
- Entity Number
- Entity Type
- Citizenship (domestic vs. foreign)
- Entity Creation Date
- Effective Date
- State of Formation
- Registered Office Address
- Members or Managers
- Document Filing History
When you’re looking to contact another business or check up your own, this information can be incredibly helpful.
What if My Name Is Unavailable?
So, you went to the Business Entity 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 Pennsylvania), 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 either form your LLC or reserve the name for future use.
Foreign LLCs have one more step in the process, though. If your business is expanding to Pennsylvania from another state, that means you’ve already been operating under an established name. But if that name is unavailable in Pennsylvania, you will need to register an “alternate name.” This is the name that your LLC will use for all business activities in the Commonwealth. Fortunately, it’s not difficult. When foreign qualifying your company, just include the name in the appropriate space on your Foreign Registration Statement.
How to Make a Pennsylvania LLC Name Distinguishable
When registering an actual or alternate name, remember that you must adhere to Pennsylvania’s specific requirements, which means your LLC name must:
- Use the terms “company,” “limited,” or “limited liability company,” or an abbreviation of one of those terms
- Be distinguishable from every other name registered with the Department of State.
That’s straightforward enough. But what makes a name distinguishable? According to the Pennsylvania Code § 17.3, changes to the following elements are NOT enough to make your name unique:
- Corporate designators like LLC, Ltd., Inc., or LP
- Singular vs. plural nouns
- Articles (“a,” “an,” or “the”)
- Geographic designators
- Numerals or spelled numbers
Essentially, to create a fully distinguishable name, you must change the name itself, not just the syntax. If you need to distinguish a name but don’t want to scrap your original idea completely, try adding or removing words, using unique spellings, finding synonyms, rearranging words, or adding prefixes or suffixes. These alterations will allow you to distinguish your name without having to think up something entirely new.
What you do next depends entirely on what your goal is. If you’re checking for name availability and your name is free in Pennsylvania, you can proceed to reserve it and use it on your Certificate of Organization.
If you’re sitting on a great LLC name, but you aren’t ready to start your business, you may want to protect it. For a $70 fee, you can reserve that name, which provides 120 days of exclusive rights to use it. Or, if your business is ready to go, skip the reservation and declare the name on your Certificate of Organization which will automatically register it to your LLC.
Need Help Starting an LLC?
As 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.
We invite you to take a look at our complete guide to all of the top options, but we’ll also quickly run down three of the most popular companies right here.
- ZenBusiness ($49) – ZenBusiness offers a well-rounded LLC formation package at a great low rate. Their standard LLC package includes a year of annual report service. ZenBusiness also receives stellar customer feedback, plus it’s a public benefit corporation that gives back to the communities it serves.
- Northwest Registered Agent ($39) – Northwest offers a bit more of a premium service and we think it’s worth it. Northwest includes a year of its industry-best registered agent service with the purchase of any LLC formation package. They also offer the best customer support in this industry, with knowledgeable representatives who are familiar with the details of business formation processes in every state.
- LegalZoom ($79) – For most people, LegalZoom is the first name that comes to mind for LLC services. With millions of clients, it’s easy to see why. LegalZoom’s pricing and features may not compete on an equal playing field with ZenBusiness and Northwest, but its brand power is second to none, it receives solid customer reviews, and it has a strong money-back guarantee.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which words are restricted from usage for LLC names in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania does not allow businesses to use the following terms without prior authorization: those implying an association with the banking industry, nonprofit organizations, the insurance industry, public utilities, credit unions, educational institutions, engineering firms, the architecture industry, or those that are blasphemous or offensive. For more information, refer to the Pennsylvania statutes.
Is it necessary to reserve my business name before forming my Pennsylvania LLC?
No. In fact, Alabama is the only state that requires entrepreneurs to reserve a business name before forming an LLC. In Pennsylvania and the other 48 states, this is an optional and largely unnecessary step.
How many small businesses are there in Pennsylvania today?
The state of Pennsylvania is home to nearly 1 million small businesses. Entrepreneurs of all backgrounds and business types find that Pennsylvania is a great place to own and operate a small business.
What are the top small business resources and websites in Pennsylvania?
The Pennsylvania chapter of the Small Business Development Center is a great place to start, as they offer a wide variety of tools and resources for Pennsylvania LLCs. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s district offices in Eastern Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh are another valuable resource, and the state’s small business resource page also has plenty of good info.
What Is the Total Expected Cost of Operating an LLC in Pennsylvania?
The overall costs of operating a Pennsylvania 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.