How to check if your business name is available

Whether you’re founding a startup, a corporation, or a sole proprietorship, your business’s name is of the utmost importance and should be as unique as possible. That way you can score on brand recognition and avoid trademark infringement. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about finding out if your business name is available.

Why should I make sure my business’s name is available?

It’s not easy to find the right business name. However, it’s important to invest the time in checking your business name’s availability to avoid a number of legal and financial pitfalls.

One of the first steps in establishing your company is registering it as an LLC or corporation with your state. To do so, you’ll need to file formation documents. If the name you list on those documents is the same as another business’s or only differs by an “S”, your request will be denied by the state. Furthermore, if the name you use is trademarked by another business, that business’s owner can come after you for trademark infringement. We’ll get into trademarking in more detail below.

Beyond the legal problems you could encounter if you unwittingly use another business’s name, you’ll run into a number of marketing and financial issues. Having a unique business name will help you with brand recognition and make a number marketing processes significantly easier. For example, let’s say you’re trying to make an Instagram account for your business. You’re less likely to get a handle that’s easy to recognize if there are other businesses out there with your name. The same goes for getting a domain. If your name of choice is taken, you’ll want to find out sooner rather than later. Money you’ve spent on designing business cards and a website is money you won’t get back.

So, take your time brainstorming creative business name ideas and do a thorough check to determine their availability.

Tip

To avoid any mix-ups from the get-go, check out IONOS’ free business name generator. In addition to giving you suggestions for business names, it also checks for the availability of related domains.

Where can I check online if my business name is available?

There’s a wealth of ways to perform a business name check online. Here are a few of the best methods:

  • Google and other search engines: A simple Google search can give you an idea of whether your business name is available or if there are businesses out there with similar names. However, these results won’t be comprehensive, so you should continue to check whether a name is already being used in official databases.
  • Statewide databases: Every state has an authority in charge of business entity filings. In most states, this will be the Secretary of State or Department of State. Each of those offices should in turn have an online tool for checking if your business name is available. For example, in California the Secretary of State is responsible for filings and this is their online Business Search tool.
  • DBA databases: Companies are not required to do business under the name they are registered as. The name a company does business under is referred to as their “DBA”, which stands for “doing business as”. Some counties require businesses to register both their DBA and their official name. Check with your county clerk to see if this is the case in your area.
  • U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO): Just because there’s no one in your state with the same business name, doesn’t mean there’s no one in the country with it. Check the USPTO trademark database to make sure no one in another state is using your desired business name. Note that if you use a name that is already registered as a trademark, you can be sued for trademark infringement. It’s absolutely critical that you check this database.
  • Google Play and Apple Store: Checking app stores for apps with names similar to yours will also help you find out if your business name is available.
  • Social media: Social media is another great place to get a sense of whether your company name is already being used. Since social media will no doubt be part of your marketing strategy, you can see if your ideas for handles have already been taken. Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are good platforms to start with.

Checking your company name to prevent trademark infringement

As mentioned above, it’s imperative that you make sure your company name isn’t already trademarked. If you do business using a trademarked name or a name that’s considered too similar, you could be sued for trademark infringement.

So what exactly does similarity mean in this context? Determining similarity varies from case to case and is subjective in nature. But keep in mind that it’s not just a matter of which letters are used. Appearance, associations, sounds, connotations and overall impressions also play a role.

In most cases, this affects businesses operating in the same industry. So if someone has trademarked Maria’s Tacos, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t name your print shop Maria’s Print Shop. However, if the company using the name is famous enough, you might be prevented from using the name regardless of the type of business you are operating. For example, naming your web design company Nike Designs would be out of the question. The best place to check if the name of an LLC, corporation or other business entity has already been trademarked is the USPTO trademark database linked above.

Tip

Have your perfect business name but still need help creating a logo? Check out IONOS’ free Logo Maker.

Should I trademark my business name?

After you’ve ensured that your business name is available and hasn’t been trademarked, you can consider whether you want to trademark the name for yourself. Ensuring that other companies aren’t using your name will help protect your brand from becoming diluted, boost brand recognition and protect you from intellectual property theft.

Domain availability

Once you’ve determined that your business name is available, the next step is making sure that your preferred domain name is free as well. If your desired name is too similar to an already existing one, it could be difficult to find a domain name. There are various tools out there for checking whether a domain is available. Take a look at BustAName or the tools offered by domain registrars like IONOS and United Domains. If your preferred domain is already taken, you might be able to buy it from its current owner.

Domain Check
  • .com
  • .net
  • .org

If you aren’t prepared to negotiate with a domain’s current owner, you can consider using a different top level domain, like .net, .org or .info to get your website idea online. And to come across more professional, don’t forget to lock in your own email domain as well.

Tip

Landed on the right business name? Help boost your company’s online image with a favicon made with IONOS’ free favicon generator.

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