How to Register a Trade Name

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

How to Register a Trade Name

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

Many businesses use trade names as a marketing or advertising strategy to help sell their products. A trade name is a fictitious name that a business entity must register if it wants to conduct business under an assumed name other than its legal name (the name found on the articles of incorporation). Trade names are often the names the general public sees and uses to identify the company.

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Benefits of a Trade Name

A business may wish to register a trade name for a variety of reasons. Trade names have particular value to sole proprietors or partnerships who often do not want to use the legal name of their business—which is often their personal name—for marketing, daily transactions, or other purposes. Registering a trade name gives the business a level of privacy that it otherwise would not have.

Other types of business entities, such as corporations or limited liability companies (LLCs), frequently register trade names as well. For example, if a corporation wants to expand into a new state where its legal name is already in use, it can register to do business under a trade name. Trade names also allow businesses more flexibility in terms of brand recognition. If a business has a new product or is branching out into a different sector, it can create a new trade name that better reflects its image.

State Law Governing Trade Names

If a business wants to register a trade name, it must do so with the state. State laws vary, but most require businesses to register if they intend to use anything other than their legal name to conduct business in the state. States use different terms for trade names, such as fictitious names, "doing business as" (or DBA), assumed names, or business names. It is helpful to know what term your state uses before you register.

Each state has its own requirements for registering a trade name. Below are a few common steps that the majority of states require.

1. Determine if your desired trade name is available.

The first thing you should do before registering a trade name is make sure that it is actually available. To do this, you can run a search through the state's business name website to see if your desired name is already in use. If it is, you have to choose a different name or else the state will reject your application. If the name is not taken, you may proceed to the next step.

2. Determine the state agency with jurisdiction over businesses.

Typically, a business must register a trade name with the state agency that has jurisdiction over businesses. By conducting a simple Google search, you can easily find the correct agency. For the majority of states, it is the Secretary of State.

3. Fill out the required forms.

Most states require you to fill out a form or certificate when registering a trade name. Typically, the form or certificate requires you to provide certain information, such as the legal name of the business, the address, and phone number. Some states make a distinction between a for-profit business and a not-for-profit business, so they may ask you to provide your business' status. LLCs and corporations may be required to provide the name and contact information for their registered agent as well.

4. Submit the forms electronically or by mail.

Once you have filled out the correct forms, you must submit them according to the state's rules. All states allow you to submit forms through the mail, and some allow you to submit the forms electronically. Alternatively, there are third-party services that can file the paperwork for you.

It is important that you follow your state's specific rules and procedures for registering a trade name. If filed improperly, the state may reject your application and you will have to start all over.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.