When planning to start a West 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 West 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 West 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 West Virginia 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 entity ID number, which is required for certain filings.
3) Agent of Process and Registered 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 West Virginia agent of process name and office address, readily available through a name search.
4) Maintaining Current Business Information
When modifying your LLC’s information – like changing your agent of process or principal address to a member or a agent of process 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 West Virginia LLC Name Search
To search for a business name – whether you’re checking availability or looking for a specific business – use the Secretary of State’s Business Entity Search page. Here, you can find any business currently on record, including reserved names.
You might have a perfect business name, but you can’t use it on your Articles of Organization until you’ve confirmed that it’s available. Fortunately, this is only a two-step process. First, enter your desired name, then click “Search.” If you see any results, your name is already taken and you’ll need to distinguish it somehow (see below). But if no businesses appear, congratulations! Your name is free, so you can go ahead and reserve or register it.
This isn’t the search’s only function, however. It also provides access to a whole database of existing business information. When you’re looking for a particular company, enter its full or partial name in the search bar. When you click the search button, you should find a list of results. Select “Details” next to any business and you’ll find the following information:
- Legal Name
- Organization Number
- Business Type
- Effective Date
- Filing Date
- Term Date and Reason (if applicable)
- Home County
- State of Jurisdiction
- Business Purpose
- Manager- or Member-Managed
- Principal Office Address
- Mailing Address
- Notice of Process Address
- Officer Name(s) and Address(es)
- Doing Business As Names
- Annual Reports
That’s quite a bit of information. All of this is public information for every West Virginia business, including your own, which makes it easy to contact other companies or check to make sure your LLC is up to date.
What If My Name Is Unavailable?
So you went to the Business Entity Records, 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 West 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.
The process is a little trickier for foreign LLCs. The name you’ve been using in other states might not be available in West Virginia. If this is the case, you will need to designate a “Doing Business As” (or DBA) name. You can do this on your Application for Certificate of Authority when you foreign qualify your LLC. Additionally, you will need to attach a letter, drafted by the LLC’s members/managers, adopting this name. You will then use the DBA for all of your West Virginia business activities.
How to Make a West Virginia LLC Name Distinguishable
As you ponder potential business names, don’t forget that every West Virginia business name must adhere to the state’s naming requirements. This means that your LLC name must:
- Use one of the following business identifiers: “Limited Liability Company” (LLC, L.L.C,), or “Limited Company” (LC, L.C., Ltd. Co.)
- Be distinguishable from every other business entity name registered or reserved in the Secretary of State’s records.
If you find that your name is unavailable, you’ll probably want a way to make it unique without discarding it entirely. While West Virginia’s Secretary of State and LLC Act don’t give specific guidelines, typically, making changes to the following name components will NOT distinguish it:
- Designators like LLC, Inc., Ltd., and LP
- The 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. Instead, try adding/removing keywords, rearranging words, using synonyms, finding unique spellings, or adding prefixes/suffixes. These strategies will give you a unique name without throwing out your original idea completely.
What you do next depends entirely on what your goal. If you’re checking for name availability and your name is free in West Virginia, you can proceed to reserve it and use it on your Articles of Organization.
If you’ve discovered an available, distinguishable business name, you may want to protect it while you prepare to start your LLC. The Secretary of State allows you to reserve a business name for 120 days by filing the appropriate form and paying a $15 fee. But if you’re ready to start your business right away, you’re better off skipping the reservation and using that 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.