I’m starting a business and don’t know whether to use my own name or come up with a different name for my business. What do you suggest?
Although many founders begin operating their businesses under their own names, it makes such businesses look small and unprofessional. Therefore, I recommend you decide on a trade business name and register it.
The choice of your company name is important because as with location, a business name is recognizable and can serve as a form of advertising. It is part of the total package you are selling and will promote familiarity and confidence in your product. Your company name should be appropriate to your product, easy to read, and easy to remember.
Since you’ll spend considerable time and money launching and operating your business, protect its name. Before you order business cards, stationery, or a brochure design, check with your county or city clerk to ensure that no one else is using the name you decide on. If you choose a trade name that no other business is using, you can register it. If someone else is using the one you select, you will have to choose another one. Have several alternative names ready in case the one you want is already being used. Check the Yellow Pages of your telephone book to see if anyone locally is using the name you are considering. In most states, you file a trade business name statement with the county or city clerk and publish a specially worded notice in the legal section of your local newspaper. A majority of states provide the form for filing, publish the notice, and file the required affidavit; some require that you register a company name.
To register your company name, you will fill out a form, sign it, get it notarized, and pay the required fee. Fees range from about $10 to $60. Ask when you must renew your name registration.
If you decide to use your own first and last name, you will not need to register it. However, if you add words like co. or associates, or if you change your own name in any way, it is considered a trade name and should be registered.
In some states, sole proprietorships and partnerships are registered at the state level rather than the local level. Corporations are always registered at the state level with the secretary of state. I recommend that you register your name with the state department of commerce to prevent its use by any corporate entity.
Someone outside your local area could be using the name you select. To protect your company name and to obtain national rights, register it with the U.S. Patent Office. To register the name as a national trademark, the company must first use it on the product in interstate commerce and then file it with the Patent Office.
Unlike a patent application, a trade name application can be made on a government form. Issuance of the registration can take up to a year and is good for 20 years, after which time it can be renewed for additional 20-year periods. If international rights may have some value, there are ways to register your business name in a foreign country.
Some consultants specialize in developing company names, and some attorneys specialize in researching the registrability of company names. Services that maintain databases on business names can also be used to search names. Names in use can be found in the Trade Names Dictionary and the Thomas Register available in the reference section of your local library.
Other good references are Brand Names: Who Owns What, which lists 15,000 brand names of about 750 firms, and The Name Game: How to Name a Company and Product.
Your company name is an integral part of your intellectual property and should be properly protected.