When planning to start a Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin, 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 IncFile and LegalZoom) can perform a name search and form the business on your behalf.
Reasons to Perform an LLC Name Search
Checking for Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin 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, 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 Wisconsin 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 Department of Financial Institutions already has on file. A name search will take care of this for you.
How to Perform a Wisconsin LLC Name Search
When you’re ready to search a business name, head over to the Department of Financial Institutions’ “Search Corporate Records” page. This is your go-to tool whether you’re checking a name’s availability or looking for a particular business.
When first starting your LLC, you’ll likely find yourself pondering a business name. Before you use a name on your Articles of Organization or other documents, confirm that it isn’t already in use. On the Search Corporate Records page, click the “Name Availablity” link, which will direct you to this page. All you need to do is enter your desired name and click “Search Records.” The search will either let you know that the name is available, or it will display other businesses that have already reserved or registered it.
But in the case that you just want to find a certain business, stay on the Search Corporate Records page and enter the company’s full or partial name, then hit “Search Records.” You’ll find a list of results, and you can click any of them to access the following information:
- Legal Entity Name
- Date of Initial Registration
- Entity Type (LLC, Corporation, etc.)
- Registered Agent
- Registered Office Address
- DFI Entity ID Number
- Filing History
- Principal Office Address
- Current Status
- Most Recent Annual Report
This information can be extremely helpful when you’re looking to contact another business or check the status of your own.
What If My Name Is Unavailable?
So you went to the Corporate Records 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 Wisconsin), 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 a slightly different process. If your LLC has already been doing business in other states, it has an established business name. But if this name is unavailable in Wisconsin, you will need to adopt a “fictitious name.” This is the name that your LLC will operate under for all its Wisconsin business activities. As you foreign qualify your LLC, submit an Adoption of Fictitious Name form to get your name on the record.
How to Make a Wisconsin LLC Name Distinguishable
Whether you’re reserving an original name, starting a new company, or adopting a fictitious name, you will need to comply with the state’s specific LLC name requirements. So, ensure that your name:
- Uses the term “limited liability company” or “limited liability co.” or ends with the abbreviation “L.L.C.” or “LLC.”
- Does not contain language that implies it’s formed for an unlawful purpose.
- Not use the word “insurance” unless it is specifically an insurance company.
- Is distinguishable from all other business entity names on record with the Department of Financial Institutions.
That last point can be a confusing one. What, exactly, does it mean for a name to be distinguishable? Department of Financial Institutions’ FAQ page offers some insight, stating that changes to the following name components will NOT distinguish it:
- Singular vs. plural vs. possessive forms of the same word
- “Insignificant words” like articles and conjunctions
- Spelled out numbers vs. numerals (one vs. 1)
- Business type signifiers like corporation, limited, company, etc.
- Abbreviations of the above words or of “Wisconsin”
- Punctuation, capitalization, or special characters
Essentially, to create a fully distinguishable name, you must change the name itself, not just the syntax. But if your name is unavailable, you probably don’t want to throw out the entire thing. Try adding/removing keywords, using unique spellings, finding synonyms, adding prefixes/suffixes, or rearranging the keywords. This way, you can maintain a similar name while making it unique in the eyes of the state.
What you do next depends entirely on what your goal. If you’re checking for name availability and your name is free in Wisconsin, you can proceed to reserve it and use it on your Articles of Organization.
Once you’ve come up with a perfect business name and discovered that it’s available, you may want to lock it down right away, and you can do so by filing for a name reservation. It costs $15 and will give you sole ownership of that name for 120 days. But if you’re ready to start your LLC, you can go ahead and simply use that name on your Articles of Organization, as this will automatically register it.
Need help getting your LLC off the ground?
An LLC formation service can take care of all the details for you. Using a formation service guarantees that your filings will be completed and submitted correctly. It eliminates the stress of doing it yourself and gives you more time to develop your business plan, network, or just relax. Two popular and reliable services are IncFile and LegalZoom – either one will set your LLC up so you can focus on starting a business.