When planning to start a Virginia 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 Virginia, 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 Virginia 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 Virginia LLC, you can periodically check its status by searching for your existing name. This will confirm your business’ good standing with the Commonwealth and provide your SCC ID, which you may need 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 Virginia 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 State Corporation Commission already has on file. A name search will take care of this for you.
How to Perform a Virginia LLC Name Search
The State Corporation Commission offers two different business name searches and the one you use depends entirely on your goal.
When you have an ideal LLC name in mind but need to check it’s availability, use the “Check Name Distinguishability” search. All you need to do is enter your proposed name in the designated box, then click the “Check Name” button. You will either get a message that the name is available, or the page will display any existing businesses with name conflicts. If it’s free, congratulations! Go ahead and reserve or register it. If it’s not, you’ll have to go back to the drawing board.
Name availability isn’t the only reason to perform a search, though. Perhaps you want to find information on a particular business. In that case, you will need to use the “Business Entity Search.” Enter the desired business’ full name, partial name, or SCC ID. You should receive a list of results. Click any business name to access its information, including:
- Legal Name
- SCC ID
- Entity Type (LLC, Corporation, etc.)
- State of Formation
- Date of Formation
- Principal Office Address
- Registered Agent Name
- Registered Agent Address
- Registered Agent Effective Date
When you’re trying to contact another business or check the status of your own, this information can be incredibly helpful.
What If My Name Is Unavailable?
So you went to the Name Distinguishability 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 Virginia), 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 LLCs, however, the process is a little different. If your business is coming to Virginia from out of state, you already have an established name. But if that name isn’t available in Virginia, you will need to register a “Designated Name” instead. Don’t worry, though, this is as simple as including the name on your application when you foreign qualify.
How to Make a Virginia LLC Name Distinguishable
Remember that, like other states, Virginia has specific requirements for business names and you must adhere to them whether you’re placing a reservation, registering a name, or declaring a designated name. They state that your name must:
- Use the words “limited company” or “limited liability company” or their abbreviations “L.C.,” “LC,” “L.L.C.,” or “LLC.”
- Not use any terms that imply that it is a corporation or limited partnership
- Be available and distinguishable in the records of the State Corporation Commission’s records.
If you find that your name is unavailable, you’ll likely want to find a method for making it distinguishable without throwing it out completely. Making changes to the following elements, however, will NOT count toward distinguishability:
- Business type identifiers like LLC, Ltd. or Inc.
- Nondescript articles
- Special Characters
Essentially, to create a fully distinguishable name, you must change the name itself, not just the syntax. Still, there are certain strategies that will distinguish your name while keeping it similar to the original idea. Try finding synonyms, using unique spellings, adding prefixes or suffixes, rearranging words, or adding/removing words.
What you do next depends entirely on what your goal. If you’re checking for name availability and your name is free in Virginia, you can proceed to reserve it and use it on your Articles of Organization.
When you’re set on a name, you may want to protect it while you prepare to start your LLC. For $10, you can reserve a business name for 120 days. Or, if you’re ready to form your LLC right away, you’re better off just using that name on your Articles of Organization because this will automatically register it.
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.