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, 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, 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 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
- 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, 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 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 reserve it.
Foreign LLCs have one more step in the process, though. If your business is expanding to 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 term “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. 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?
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.