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, 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, 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 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, 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 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, go ahead and reserve it.
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:
- Uses a term that designates its business type, like “limited liability company,” “L.L.C.,” or “LLC.”
- Does 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.
- Does not imply that it is a government agency
- Is 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. 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?
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.