When planning to start a Washington 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 Washington, 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 Washington 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 Formation and started your Washington 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 UBI number, which may be required for certain 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 Washington 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 Washington LLC Name Search
Whether you want to find a specific company or check a name’s availability, you’ll use the Secretary of State’s Corporation Search tool.
You may have come up with the perfect name for your LLC, but it doesn’t matter if someone’s already using it. To find out if your name is available, enter it in the search bar and click the button. Any results that appear mean another business has already registered or reserved that name, so you will need to think of another one. But if nothing comes up, go ahead and make it yours by reserving it or using it on your Certificate of Formation.
But the Corporations Search is versatile and can be used for much more than name availability searches. It also offers a database full of business information in case you’re looking for a particular company. You can either enter the desired business’ name in the regular search or use the Advanced Search to narrow your results by business type, status, date of formation, start/end date, or registered agent information. Select any company from the list to see its:
- Business Name
- UBI Number
- Business Type
- Business Status
- Principal Office Address
- Mailing Address
- Expiration Date
- State of Jurisdiction
- Formation Date
- Period of Duration
- Inactive Date (if applicable)
- Nature of Business
- Registered Agent Name
- Registered Agent Address
- Governor Information
When you’re trying to contact another business or check the status of your own, this information can make the process incredibly easy.
What If My Name Is Unavailable?
So you went to the Corporations 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 Washington), 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.
Is your LLC expanding to Washington from another state? The process is slightly different for foreign entities. If the name you’ve been using in other states is unavailable in Washington, you will need to register a “Doing Business As” name (AKA trade name). Find instructions for registering one here. After you’ve done so, include that name on your Foreign Entity Registration when you foreign qualify your LLC.
How to Make a Washington LLC Name Distinguishable
As you consider LLC names, keep in mind that all Washington business names must comply with the state’s specific requirements. This means that your LLC name must:
- Use the “limited liability company,” the words “limited liability” and abbreviation “Co.,” or the abbreviation “L.L.C.” or “LLC”
- Not use any of the following terms: “Cooperative,” “partnership,” “corporation,” “incorporated,” or the abbreviations “Corp.,” “Ltd.,” or “Inc.,” or “LP,” “L.P.,” “LLP,” “L.L.P.,” “LLLP,” “L.L.L.P,”
- Be distinguishable from all other business entity names registered or reserved in the Secretary of State records.
In the case that your desired name is unavailable, you may be wondering: how can I make it distinguishable? Making changes to the following name components will NOT distinguish it:
- Business type designators like LLC or Ltd. (New Company LLC and New Company Ltd. are considered the same)
- Articles (“a,” “an,” and “the”)
- Conjunctions (like “and,” “but,” and “or”)
- Special Characters
- Singular vs. plural forms of the same word
- Abbreviated versions of the same word
Essentially, to create a fully distinguishable name, you must change the name itself, not just the syntax. You probably don’t want to throw out your original name entirely to make it distinguishable, so try adding/removing words, using synonyms, finding unique spellings, rearranging words, or adding prefixes and/or suffixes.
What you do next depends entirely on what your goal. If you’re checking for name availability and your name is free in Washington, you can proceed to reserve it and use it on your Certificate of Formation.
Once you’ve found an available, distinguishable name, you may want to protect it. You can do so by filing a name reservation for $30. This will give you exclusive rights to that name for 180 days. However, if you’re ready to start your LLC, you’re better off skipping the reservation and simply using the name on your Certificate of Formation, which 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.