How to Do a Business Name Search in CA
So you are ready to setup your great new California business when it occurs to you: how do I find out if the business name I want is available? Don’t worry, there’s actually a pretty easy process for this. Why is there a process in the first place? That’s because the state of California – like other states – doesn’t want multiple businesses using the same name, which seems pretty reasonable to us.
In addition to ensuring your name is unique, you’ll also need to follow the CA Business Naming Guidelines. (Don’t worry, this is pretty easy to do.)
So, just follow our step by step process below and soon you’ll have a shiny new business name.
Step 1: Follow the CA Business Name Guidelines
Suffice it to say, if the name you want is illegal, well then it’s not available.
- If you are forming a Limited Liability Company, “limited liability company”, “L.L.C.”, or “LLC” must be part of your name. (But if you don’t like any of those you can always setup a dba with a different name. For more on dbas check out our detailed guide on setting setting up a business in CA.)
- Using certain words in your business name such as “University” or “Doctor” or “Attorneys at Law” may necessitate further registrations and regulatory steps. Obviously, if you aren’t a doctor or a bank CA doesn’t want you implying you are via your name.
- Don’t use words that imply that your business is a government agency like the FBI or CIA. The government doesn’t like this.
- If you want to go deep into the weeds on this issue, you can read the CA Secretary of State business name regulations here.
Step 2: Do a CA Business Name Search on the CA Secretary of State Website
This is where things start to get exciting. The CA Secretary of State website is actually pretty user friendly, so this process should be pretty easy.
- Go to the CA SOS search page.
- Depending on whether you want to start a Corporation, LLC, or LP, select the appropriate business type in the Search Type field and search for the name that you want.
- Hopefully there won’t be a business using your desired name. If there is, be sure to check the status column. If it says dissolved, then depending on how long they have been out of operation you may be able to get the name after all. (Reach out to the CA SOS for the latest rules in that regard.) If not, you’re out of luck – but hopefully you have a good backup in mind.
- If you click on a name that comes up after running a search, you can obtain further information about the company such as its location, when it was registered, and whether it has completed its basic ongoing regulatory requirements. This may not be very helpful now, but after setting up your company you may want to come here periodically to ensure you haven’t fallen behind on anything. (And believe me, MANY companies fall behind. It’s a headache, and can be expensive. Don’t fall behind.)
- If you don’t see the name you desire than you are likely good to go, but there is a slight chance there is a very similar name that didn’t come up. In rare cases, for example, a pre-existing business may have used the plural form of a word while you may have used the singular. (Cat LLC vs. Cats LLC.) If this is the case you won’t be able to get your name because your name won’t be considered unique. To avoid this you can fill out a Name Availability Inquiry Letter and send it in to the Secretary of State’s office. They will let you know with complete authority whether the name you desire is currently available. Keep in mind though that even if the name which you thought was available actually isn’t, the CA SOS office will simply tell you this when you attempt to register it, so you’ll find out eventually one way or another.
Step 3: Do a Quick Web Search
This is a simple and quick step that can help you avoid headaches down the road. If someone already has a strong web presence either with the name you want or something similar to it, it may be worth considering coming up with something different. Depending on what you do, competing with another website may be something to avoid, even it they are out of state. Not only that, if someone has a website with the name you want they may have already registered the name with the state of CA (or may be in the process of doing so) – so take extra care when searching the CA SOS website.
In addition to a basic Google search, you can pop into GoDaddy to see if someone owns the URL desired, and if not that is where you can buy the URL.
Step 4: Reserve the Name You Want If Necessary
If you’re not quite ready to setup an LLC but want to ensure that the name you want will be available you can reserve it for 60 days by filling out a Name Reservation Request. There is a $10 fee and the request must be either mailed or dropped off at the Secretary of State’s office in Sacramento. If need be you can re-reserve the name but there must be at least a one day break between each 60 day reservation and you must refill out the form.
Optional Bonus Step: Check the Trademark Directory and/or Trademark Your Name
Most small to medium sized businesses aren’t too worried about trademarks. But if you want to be extra cautious you can check the US Patent and Trademark Office database. If you find a name similar to yours in the database you probably will be best served to choose something different. If you don’t want to do that then you should speak to a lawyer before proceeding. If you are planning on creating a brand that will be national in scope than you may want to trademark the name, otherwise there are likely better ways to spend your money. If you decide you do want to get a trademark, follow the instructions on the USPTO website. It’s not a terribly difficult process and shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours of work.
Step 5: Setup Your Business with the Desired Name
If everything has gone smoothly so far than you should be good to go. Now all you need to do is determine the kind of business structure you want to use and go through the steps necessary to set it up. For help with choosing the appropriate business structure and setting them up, check out this great post on setting up a business in CA. Whatever you choose, proceed with confidence that the name you want is available. (Unless of course someone takes it just before you, which is a bummer, but quite unlikely – and if it happens the state of CA will let you know.)
There you have it, 5 steps (plus an optional bonus step) to answer the oft-burning question: Is the Name I Want for My CA Business Available? Need more help with your business? My OC Bookkeeper is Southern California’s premier bookkeeping, accounting, outsourced CFO and business consulting firm. We can help you with everything from day to day bookkeeping to setting up your initial accounting processes to building complex financial models. If it has to do with accounting or business finance, we know how to do it.
Want to learn everything you could ever want to know about setting up a business in CA? Watch the video below.