Your Name, Your Business

MyCorporation: Business Naming Myth Blasters
Business Naming Myth Blasters

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Myth #1: If someone uses your business name as a Web site address, you can demand ownership of that domain name

You would think this would be so, but the reality is much more complicated. Sometimes you can approach domain registration companies about acquiring a name that is already being used—but these companies don't have to transfer ownership. And be careful about approaching the owner of a Web address, because that person just might ask for a briefcase full of cash to transfer the domain name. Instead, you may need to find an attorney to help you—if you really think it's worth the legal effort.
In cases like this, you may need to think about coming up with a domain name that is similar to your business name—or think about other possibilities for naming your company.

Myth #2: The effort of researching an ideal business name takes too much time from starting a business

Discovering the right name for a business can be one of the most rewarding—and fun—entrepreneurial activities around. Besides, you'll save more time in the long run by having an appropriate name that you actually own. For one thing, a good name will make your business attractive to customers and investors, and you'll want to spare yourself the embarrassment of explaining a name that doesn't make much sense for your venture.

Myth #3: The name of a small business name should include a reference to location and the services or products sold

Sometimes. If you think you'll be doing business in once place, then names like "Youngstown Zeppelin Service" and "Tri—Valley Blast Furnace Cleaners" make sense. But consider your long—term plans. Where will your business be a year from now—or five or ten years from now? Will you still be in just one location? And will you offer more than one product or service? Possibly—so you may want to think big and give yourself a name that will grow with your business.

Myth #4: You can get a lot of recognition out of using a name that sounds similar to a familiar brand name

This is true, but it probably won't be the kind of recognition you want. If it can be proved that you intentionally made your business name sound like that of another company, you could be in for some legal trouble. That's why names like "Intell," "Dizney," and "General Motor" are likely to catch the attention of corporate lawyers who spend their time looking out for companies that appear to infringe on band names.

Myth #5: You can make your business name seem more established by adding "LLC" or "Inc."

Sometimes true, but you'd also better make sure that your company is actually a limited liability company (LLC) or incorporated as a corporation. These are legal terms showing that a company is doing business in a particular way, and you can't just add these designations to your business name without actually having formed an LLC or corporation.

Myth #6: If a business name you like is taken by another company, that name can't be used

You'd think so, but it depends. If the business name is trademarked, then you can't use that particular name. However, if a company has the same name that you'd like to use, or a similar one, and hasn't trademarked it, you may be able to use it if:

  • The other company does not provide the same services as your business
  • The other company is located in another county or state
  • You're using your own personal name as a business name

This is a situation where you may need to consult a trademark lawyer to make sure you can use a particular name.

Myth #7: You must always register your business name

It's a good idea to register your business name for the sake of protection, but it's not always necessary. For example, sole proprietorships and general partnerships that use the names of their owners are not always required to file or register when the business name is the same as the owner's. LLCs and corporations always submit business names with their articles of incorporation. But regardless of the requirements of your business structure, registering your business name will help you avoid a situation where you may be forced to rename your venture.

Myth #8: You can find all business names in government name registers

Not true for two reasons. First, we still haven't reached the point where all information is easily found in one central repository. And secondly, the government really isn't everywhere. You'll be able to find registered businesses in government name registers, but many businesses are not registered. While these companies may not legally own their names, you don't want to be confused with another business. That's why doing Internet searches will help you narrow down your list of potential business names.

Myth #9: You can trademark just about any word or phrase

Sometimes it seems that way, but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has pretty stringent guidelines to make sure people can't trademark commonly used words and phrases. The same goes for secretary of state offices at the state level if you plan to register your trademark regionally. For example, common and ordinary names—such as Smith's Hardware or Tom's Gourmet Sandwiches—aren't distinctive enough to receive trademark protection. Names such as FedEx, Quicken, and Xerox, however, are distinctive enough to receive trademark protection.
Also keep in mind that a common—sounding company name can be trademarked when it is used in conjunction with a particular product. For example, McDonald's is a trademarked name when it is used to market hamburgers—but not things like office supplies and vinyl siding.

Myth #10: Adding the ™ or ® symbol to your company name protects you from other businesses trying to use the same name

Although you can add ™ to your business name if you believe you have the right to use it, if you're serious about protecting your name, apply for trademark protection. Ideally, you should do this before using the ™ symbol. If someone does contest ownership of the name, you'll have the better claim if you have already started the registration process.
Using the ® symbol is an entirely different story, because it is reserved only for companies that have actually had their trademark registered. Until your name is registered, don't use ®—otherwise it will stand for "regrets" instead of "registered."

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MyCorporation: Winning the Name Game

Winning the Name Game

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Help me choose which entity is right for me.

Registering Your Business Name

Finding and registering your business name is an essential first step in creating your own distinctive brand.

Check for Availability of Your Business Name

After you come up with a list of possible names for your new venture, make sure that you find an available business name. For one thing, you don't want anyone to confuse your business with another company. And you certainly want to avoid any situation where some big corporation decides that you're infringing on its name and then gives you a lot of legal grief.

Below you'll find a guide to determining availability and registering your name.

  • Research names in government databases and on the Internet

    To make sure your business is never confused with another company, conduct a thorough name and trademark search. To find out whether your proposed business name is available, start with the alphabetical business listings in the White Pages. If the names you like aren't there, continue your search using:

    • Fictitious name databases, which can be found in your county clerk's office and should hold all the names under which local companies do business. In some states, there are statewide fictitious name databases. When you decide on a name, you'll want to register it this way, too. If a name you like is already taken by someone else in a different part of the state, but not in your county, you may be able to use it as well. Ask the people who work for the county clerk's office or the people in your state's secretary of state office.
    • Corporation, limited liability corporation (LLC), and limited partnership name databases, which can be found in state filing offices and are now often online. Whether or not your business is one of these types of companies, you'll want to make sure that the name you want isn't taken by some other company in these databases. Why? These companies can be a pain when they think a name comes close to what they call themselves. Searching these databases can avoid potential problems.
    • The Internet is a superb research tool. It may not always give you access to business names in government databases, but using popular search engines will help you narrow your list of names. It also helps to use advanced search options you'll find with these services, or you may get information about things that have little to do with a family business.

As you do your research, keep in mind that even if a business in another state or county has the same name you want, it doesn't mean a particular name is off-limits. You may only need to make sure that a particular name isn't trademarked and doesn't represent a company offering the same things as your business.

  • Researching trademarked names will protect your business

    And speaking of trademarks, that little symbol often stands for something pretty big. Legally it can stand for a word, phrase, design, or symbol used to market a product or service-if the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) says so. Most states register trademarks for regional businesses through their secretary of state offices. Also, you should know that the ™ symbol means that a company claims ownership of a particular name, while an ® symbol means that the name has been registered and is definitely owned by someone else.

  • Getting your business online means reserving a name on the Internet

    If you plan on having a Web site for your business, then you'll want to have a domain name that will at least reflect part of the name of your new venture. Because people increasingly look online for businesses, what you discover on the Internet may help you narrow down your naming choices. You may also want to consider going back to your earlier research to see if any of the business names you're considering are already used as Web site addresses. All of this also helps keep other businesses from horning in on what you plan to offer.

  • Registering your business name makes it official

    You're going to feel like celebrating once you find an available and appropriate name, because your business idea will have just taken an important first step toward becoming reality. In fact, if you plan to run a sole proprietorship or general partnership, you may already be there if your business name is the same as your own given name, as in "Henry Gorman, Balloon Artist.

If you plan on operating under a name that isn't the same as your own, you'll need to register a fictitious business name with your county clerk. And if you're starting a corporation, LLC, or limited partnership, your official business name will be automatically registered when you file your articles of incorporation, articles of organization, or statement of limited partnership with your state filing office

You may also want to trademark your business name (and, later, the logos and other designs you use to represent your venture) in your state or on the federal level.

Courtesy of –a free website and community from MyCorporation, Intuit that helps new businesses start and succeed.