When planning to start a Tennessee 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 Tennessee, 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 Tennessee 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 Tennessee 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 control number, which may be necessary 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 Tennessee 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 Tennessee LLC Name Search
To get started, head over to the Tennessee Secretary of State website, which provides two different name search functions – one for name availability and one for existing business information.
Let’s start with name availability. You may be excited about a particular name, but don’t use it on your Articles of Organization without first confirming that it’s free. On the Business Name Availability Search page, enter your desired name and click the search button. If you see any results, your name is in use and you’ll need to differentiate it somehow (see below). But if the search returns no results, congratulations! The name is available and you’re free to reserve or register it.
When searching for a particular business, however, you’ll use the Business Information Search instead. Enter the business’ full or partial name (or its control number) and a list of results should appear. Choose any business to find the following information:
- Legal Name
- Initial Filing Date
- Delayed Effective Date (if applicable)
- State of Formation
- Fiscal Year Close (Month)
- Annual Report Due Date
- Inactive Date (if applicable)
- Term of Duration
- Principal Office Address
- Mailing Address
- Managed by Members or Managers
- Assumed Name(s)
- Filing History
- Registered Agent Name
- Registered Agent Address
That’s a whole lot of information at your fingertips. Remember that this information is public, just as it is for your LLC. The benefit is that this search makes it easy to confirm that your company’s information is up to date.
What if My Name Is Unavailable?
So, you went to the name availability 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 Tennessee), 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, either form your LLC or reserve the name for future use.
Foreign LLCs have to take one more step to reconcile an unavailable name. If your business is expanding to Tennessee from a different state, that means it’s already been operating under an established name elsewhere. If that name is taken, you will need to register an assumed name instead. Then, when foreign qualifying your LLC, provide that name on your Application for Certificate of Authority.
How to Make a Tennessee LLC Name Distinguishable
Every Tennessee LLC name, domestic or foreign, real or assumed, must adhere to the state’s business name requirements. This means that your LLC name must:
- Use a term that designates its business type, like “limited liability company,” “L.L.C.,” or “LLC.”
- Not contain language that implies affiliation with any “fraternal, veterans’, service, religious, charitable, or professional organization” unless that affiliation is recorded with the Secretary of State’s office.
- Not imply that it is a government agency.
- Be distinguishable in the Secretary of State’s records from all other Tennessee business entity names.
The most logical follow-up question is: how do you make a name distinguishable? Let’s first look at changes that will NOT distinguish your name. Altering the following elements will not make your name unique:
- Business type indicators like LLC, Inc., Ltd., or LP
- Articles (“a,” “an,” and “the”)
- Conjunctions (like “and,” “but,” and “or”)
Essentially, to create a fully distinguishable name, you must change the name itself, not just the syntax. But if you’ve fallen in love with a name that’s unavailable, you probably won’t want to throw it out completely. Instead, try rearranging the words, using unique spellings, finding synonyms, adding prefixes or suffixes, or adding/removing keywords. This way, you can maintain a similar name while making it distinguishable.
What you do next depends entirely on what your goal is. If you’re checking for name availability and your name is free in Tennessee, you can proceed to reserve it and use it on your Articles of Organization.
Got an available, distinguishable name? If you want to protect it while you plan to start your business, you can reserve it for 120 days by filing the appropriate form and paying a $20 fee. Or, if you’re ready to start your business, simply use the name on your Articles of Organization; it will be registered automatically.
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 Tennessee?
Tennessee has a handful of rules that apply to the use of certain words in business names. For instance, you can’t use any words that imply you provide any professional services without prior authorization, words affiliated with “fraternal, veterans, service, religious, charitable, or professional” organizations, terms that imply governmental association, or words that imply a different business purpose than the LLC’s intended purpose.
Need more information? Take a look at the Secretary of State’s “Business Name Availability Guidelines” document.
Is it necessary to reserve my business name before forming my Tennessee LLC?
No. In fact, Alabama is the only state that requires entrepreneurs to reserve a business name before forming an LLC. In Tennessee and the other 48 states, this is an optional and largely unnecessary step.
How many small businesses are there in Tennessee today?
The state of Tennessee is home to more than 620,000 small businesses. Entrepreneurs of all backgrounds and business types find that Tennessee is a great place to own and operate a small business.
What are the top small business resources and websites in Tennessee?
The Tennessee chapter of the Small Business Development Center is a great place to start, as they offer a wide variety of tools and resources for Tennessee LLCs. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Tennessee District Office is 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 Tennessee?
The overall costs of operating a Tennessee 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.