What Does DBA Mean in Business?

By Tom Streissguth

In the business world, DBA - which stands for "doing business as" - is a vitally important acronym to know. It signifies that an individual or company is doing business under a fictitious name. One common example would be a chain store franchise, operated under a commercial name familiar to everyone but actually run by an individual or firm owning the local franchise. State laws govern the creation and use of DBA fictitious names.

Legal Requirements

In order to operate a business under a fictitious name, you must register that name with the clerk of court in the county where you are operating, or with the agency responsible for keeping track of businesses operating in your state. In most cases, this is the office of the Secretary of State or Division of Corporations, or similar regulatory body. State laws require that a DBA name must not be identical to another DBA that is already registered, or resemble an operating DBA with the intention to deceive the public.

Multiple Residences

Any company that wishes to operate a business under an alias or assumed name must register that name with each state in which it will be doing business. The registration of a DBA does not cross state lines; therefore, it is not sufficient to register a DBA only in the business's home state if the business is operating in another state. If the DBA registration is allowed to lapse, typically the business may no longer legally operate under that name.

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The registration process for fictitious names is usually simple and straightforward. You fill out a short form with the legal name of the company doing the registration, as well as the chosen fictitious name, business address and phone, owner and officer names, and the name of the registered agent. An attorney or online legal document preparation service can help prepare your DBA application and ensure that the form is filled out properly. The agency will require a filing fee, as well as regular (usually annual) renewals. The information is available to the public through an online database, or through a search in the public records office. Registration allows the public to discover the individual or company responsible for operating under any business name.


If you are operating a business under your own name, or legal name of your partnership or corporation, you do not need to register a DBA. If the name of the business is not identical, however, it is a fictitious name. For example, an individual legally named "Terry Woods" may be able to operate a business under the name "Terry Woods Landscaping" without registering a DBA, depending on state laws. The fictitious name will be required in order to get an Employer Identification Number from the Internal Revenue Service and to obtain any necessary local licenses and permits.

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Related articles

Can an LLC Have More Than One DBA?

Running a successful business requires a keen understanding of the marketplace. In the initial stages of operations, this foresight is important for determining how to structure a company and the names it will use in conducting transactions with the public. A limited liability company allows owners to enjoy the "pass-through" tax advantages of partnerships as well as avoiding personal liability for the business's debts. While state law requires that LLCs operate under the legal name contained in their Articles of Organization, sometimes this name is not desirable from a branding perspective, particularly if the company will market very different products or services. In that case, the LLC can register one or more "doing business as" names with the state.

DBA as a Sole Proprietorship in Massachusetts

Naming a business is often a very important step from a branding perspective. In Massachusetts, business registrations are typically handled by the Secretary of the Commonwealth. For owners that choose to structure their business as a sole proprietorship, the name of the company defaults to the name of the owner. In some cases, however, this may not be a desirable option. In such cases, a new fictitious business name must be registered locally before the company can operate. The procedure involves the completion and filing of a certificate containing the addresses and names of the business and owner as well as the payment of a filing fee. The fictitious name will then be included on all government forms and tax filings as well as any applicable licenses and permits.

California Fictitious Business Name Filing Requirements

California law requires that any company doing business in the state under a fictitious name register that name. The purpose of a fictitious name filing is to create a public record of the real people and companies operating under assumed names, or "doing business as" (DBA) names. Since you may not register a name identical or deceptively similar to one already in use, the law also protects the rights of businesses to keep their name unique.


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