When choosing a name for your business, not only is it to your advantage to choose one that’s unique, but Delaware law actually requires it. Many businesses operate under a fictitious trade name, commonly referred to as a “DBA,” that is different than the owner’s legal name or the legal name of their entity. There are ways to find out whether a Delaware entity is using a DBA, but keep in mind that sole proprietors use DBAs as well.
Business Name Laws
It is helpful to understand the difference between a business’s legal name and its trade name before you even begin investigating whether it uses a DBA or not. Otherwise, you may end up wasting time trying to figure out how a business can have so many different names. When a business entity, such as a corporation, is formed in Delaware, the state requires the incorporator to choose a unique legal name that isn’t already registered to another Delaware business entity. However, the corporation may choose to use a different name that it wants the public to associate its business with, which is why a DBA might be used.
Fictitious Name Registrations
State law requires a DBA to be unique before it can be registered, but this only applies to each county rather than statewide. In other words, you can’t use a DBA in Kent County if it’s already registered to another business there, but you can, however, use it in New Castle or Sussex County. Each county’s courthouse is responsible for registering DBAs that will be used within its county and is likely to be a great resource when investigating whether a DBA exists or not.
County DBA Searches
The Delaware Judiciary maintains a website that features a database of all DBA registrations for all three counties. As an alternative to traveling to your county courthouse, you can navigate to the website’s “online names database” and search by any keyword for existing DBAs. When you click on a search result, information is listed for the parent company. It will reference the legal name for the business entity using the DBA, which is referred to in the results as a “trade name.”
No Parent Company
Since all businesses that register a DBA must provide information about the parent company on the registration form, a lack of business entity name may indicate that the DBA is registered to a sole proprietor, which is not an actual legal entity, an unregistered partnership or association. However, regardless of whether the business is a legal Delaware entity or not doesn’t change the fact that you can’t use an existing DBA in that county.