How to Check for DBA (Doing Business As) Names

By Joe Stone

Business owners who use a name other than their own name are using a DBA, which is short for “doing business as” and also referred to as a trade name, assumed name or fictitious business name. A DBA is desirable when you want a name for your business that more readily identifies your products or services. Using a DBA is also the easiest and least expensive way for you to establish a name for your business. Before using a DBA, you should check available sources to determine whether another business is using the same DBA.

State DBA Laws

DBA laws differ from state to state, but most states require some form of registration before you can use a DBA. Registration is made at a government office, either at the state, county or city level. A government database of records for DBA registrations should be available for public viewing at these offices. A list of the registration requirements for each state is available on the U.S. Small Business Administration website.

State Level Registration

States that require DBA registration at the state level of government typically require registration with the same state office that oversees the registration of corporations and trademarks. These state offices will have a database of registered names that can be searched via telephone or mail inquiry to the office, with some having online access to the database. For example, Florida requires DBA registration with the Division of Corporations of the Florida Department of State, which includes on its website a search engine for its database of registered DBA names.

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Local Level Registration

DBA registration at the local government level is done either at a county, city or town office. For example, county DBA registration typically occurs at the county clerk's office, such as in California, or at the county courthouse, such as in Georgia. Registration is typically required only in the county where the business is principally located. The county clerk's records can be checked for active DBA filings. In Massachusetts, the law requires DBA registration in every city or town clerk's office where the business is operating under an assumed name. Therefore, in any locality where the business is operating under an assumed name, the city or town clerk's records can be checked for a DBA.

Miscellaneous State Registration Laws

A few states -- Kansas, Mississippi and New Mexico -- do not require a DBA to be registered, nor do they have a procedure for registering a DBA, and so no government database of DBA names is available in these states. Arizona does not require DBA registration, but does have an optional registration procedure with the Secretary of State's office with a database of registered names that can be searched online. A search of this database, however, will not disclose those DBAs in use that are not registered.

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How do I Convert a DBA to LLC?

If you are conducting business using a DBA, which is short for "doing business as" and sometimes called a fictitious business name, and want and you want to use the DBA as a name for an LLC, you can do this by following the LLC naming laws in your state. Each state has its own LLC laws and state agency charged with overseeing compliance with these laws, usually the secretary of state. Although variations exist between state LLC laws, forming an LLC using your DBA name will require determining the name’s availability and filing the required document that starts the LLC’s existence.

How to Register a DBA Name So No One Else Can Use It

Companies and individuals can operate under fictitious, or assumed, names called DBAs. DBA stands for "doing business as" -- and state laws regarding DBAs vary. It is a misdemeanor crime in Missouri and Michigan to conduct business using an unregistered DBA. Other states, such as Tennessee, do not always require you to register assumed names.

Setting Up a DBA in Massachusetts

A DBA, which is short for doing business as, is the registration form that a business owner must file when she does business under a name other than her real name. Not all states require you to register a DBA, but Massachusetts does. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the law requires business owners to register a DBA to create a public record of the name and address of the true owner of a business. According to Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 110, Section 5, DBA registrations are required for "any person conducting business in the Commonwealth under any title other than the real name of the person conducting the business, whether individually or as a partnership." For example, if your name is Kent Plank and your business is Plank's Carpentry, you're using a name other than your real name and must register your business as a DBA. Similarly, if a corporation is named "Waldo's Wonders" in its articles of incorporation but the corporation wants to do business under a different name, the owner would have to register that name as a fictitious business name. In Massachusetts, you register a DBA in the city or town in which you do business.

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