When planning to start a South 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 South 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 South 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 South 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 your filing history, so you can review what you’ve submitted.
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 South 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 South Carolina LLC Name Search
When you need to find a business name, whether it’s to check availability or find a specific company, the Secretary of State’s Business Name Search is your go-to resource.
If you’re excited about a particular business name, you might want to use it on your Articles of Organization right away, but first you should check to see it’s already in use. Once you’re on the Business Name Search page, all you need to do is select “Exact Match” from the dropdown box and enter your desired name in the search bar. Click the search button and it will tell you if your name is available or not. If it’s unavailable, you’ll need to find a way to make it distinguishable (see below). But if it’s free, you can go ahead and reserve or register it.
There’s not a separate search tool you can use to find existing businesses, so use the same Business Name Search. Just enter the full or partial company name, hit “Search,” and you’ll see the page populate with results. Click on any of them to access the following information:
- Full Legal Name
- Entity Type (LLC, Corporation, etc.)
- State of Formation
- Effective Date
- Expiration Date (if applicable)
- Term End Date (if applicable)
- Dissolved Date (if applicable)
- Registered Agent Name
- Registered Agent Address
Whether you’re trying to contact another company or check up on your own, this information can be incredibly useful.
What If My Name Is Unavailable?
So you went to the Business Name 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 South 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.
For foreign entities, the process is a little different. This is because, as a foreign LLC, you’ve already been operating under an established name in other states, so if that name is unavailable in South Carolina, you’ll need to register a “fictitious name.” This is just the name that you’ll use for all in-state business activities. Use this form and pay a $10 fee to register your fictitious name when you foreign qualify your LLC.
How to Make a South Carolina LLC Name Distinguishable
You may have discovered an available business name, but remember that it also must adhere to South Carolina’s specific name requirements, so it needs to:
- Use one of the following terms: “limited liability company” or “limited company” or the abbreviation “L.L.C.”, “LLC”, “L.C.”, or “LC”
- Be completely distinguishable from all other registered and reserved names on file with the Secretary of State.
The big question is: what makes a name distinguishable? The South Carolina Secretary of State and LLC Act don’t provide specific guidelines, but typically, changes to the following name elements will NOT make it distinguishable:
- Designators like LLC, Ltd., Inc., or LP
- Articles (“a,” “an,” or “the”)
- Conjunctions (like “and,” “but,” and “or”)
- Special Characters
Essentially, to create a fully distinguishable name, you must change the name itself, not just the syntax. If your name is unavailable, you likely won’t want to scrap it entirely. To distinguish it without changing too much, try finding synonyms, rearranging keywords, using unique spellings, adding prefixes or suffixes, or adding/removing words. This way, you can have a unique name that isn’t far from 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 South Carolina, you can proceed to reserve it and use it on your Articles of Organization.
When you’ve got an ideal, available name, you’ll probably want to lock it down right away. But if you’re not ready to start your LLC, you can place a name reservation for $25, which will hold your name for 120 days. But if your LLC is ready to go, you’re better off skipping the reservation and using the name on your Articles of Organization, which will register it automatically.
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.