Selecting the right name for your business is one of the most important steps you will take as a new entrepreneur. You need to choose a name that stands out, that accurately represents your brand, and that immediately tells your audience what unique purpose your business serves.
But it’s admittedly not easy. Not only is it tough to find that perfect name, but there is a bevy of state and federal laws that govern and restrict your freedom to name your business. In fact, your business name will depend on a variety of factors, from your entity type, to federal trademark laws, to the availability of that moniker in your particular county.
Business Name Guidelines By Entity Type
The Sole Proprietorship
If you’re operating as a sole proprietor – that is, your are operating your business as yourself, without setting up a separate legal entity – you may name your business after yourself without having to consult anyone or determine whether the name is already taken.
However, if you use an “assumed name” that is, a name that has nothing to do with your name, you will need to check your county’s Register of Deeds to ensure that someone else isn’t already operating a business under that title.
The Limited Partnership And LLC
If your business is a limited partnership or LLC, the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office will review your name and will either approve or reject it. The Office may reject your name if it is too similar to another entity’s name or if it uses language prohibited by federal copyright and trademark law.
Confirming Your Name Is Available For Use In North Carolina
If your entity is set up as an LLC or Limited Partnership, it is critical to take the following steps to ensure your name is not only available, but also legal.
Step 1: Check the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office website to see if your name is already in use.
Step 2: Confirm that your business’ name does not include any restricted terms. For instance, if you are operating a professional business or PLLC, make sure you are abiding by your particular profession’s ethical rules and regulations about what monikers you can attach to your business. In particular, terms like bank, trust, mutual, co-op, insurance, engineering, or architecture can only be used in a certain narrow set of circumstances, so make sure you are not incorrectly applying certain trade terms to your entity.
Step 3: Check the Register of Deeds office in your county, as well as surrounding counties, to see if any similarly-named businesses exist.
Step 4: Search online through business directories, city directories, chambers of commerce lists, and more for similarly named businesses in your area.
Step 5: Finally, comb the trademark registration section of the North Carolina Secretary of State’s website to see if the words making up your name have already been registered as a trademark or service mark under North Carolina law. It is also advisable to conduct a search through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for similar registrations.
When in Doubt, Ask A Wilmington Business Attorney
If you are new to business ownership and are struggling to choose an appropriate, available, and legal name for your business, consult your attorney. Our team of experienced business lawyers can advise you to ensure you select an original name that accurately represents your brand, while still complying with the relevant state and federal laws. If you have questions about your new business, we welcome you to contact our Wilmington business attorneys to schedule a consultation.