The Meaning of DBA

By Lee Roberts

DBA is an abbreviation for the term “doing business as,” and it refers to the name that a business uses. For example, if Joe Gomes wants to name his plumbing business "Speedy Plumbing," that name would be his DBA. Other terms for DBA include "fictitious name," "assumed name," and "trade name." Laws vary among jurisdictions, and you must learn the laws in your area. In general, the goals of DBA laws are to reduce confusion and increase transparency about the purposes and ownership of businesses.

DBA Statements

Jurisdictions that require businesses to make a statement about their intent to use a DBA typically require the owner to fill out a form. Often this takes place at the county level. You may also need to pay a fee. You must usually identify your company's legal name and the proposed DBA name. In our earlier example, the legal name of the plumbing business would be the sole proprietor's name, Joe Gomes, and the DBA name would be Speedy Plumbing. In some areas, including counties in Illinois and California, you must provide an address and certify that you intend to do business from that location. You must also typically publish your DBA in a local newspaper for a period of time.

Sole Proprietors and Partnerships

Sole proprietors and partnerships commonly take advantage of DBAs because operating under an assumed name provides them with more options to market their business and to protect their personal privacy. By using a DBA, the owner can convey the type of business he's in: as a business name, "Speedy Plumbing" is more informative than "Joe Gomes."

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Corporations and LLCs

Corporations and LLCs choose a descriptive legal name at the time their business is created and thus are less likely to need a DBA than other businesses. However, there are still some situations in which a DBA is necessary. For example, a corporation may need to use a DBA when doing business in another state in which another company is already using the corporation's legal name. A representative of the corporation must register the company's intent to use a DBA.

Not Permanent, Not Exclusive

Generally, when you register a DBA, you don't get to use the name on a permanent or indefinite basis. Typically you must renew your registration every few years, according to your local laws. And it may surprise you to learn that if you register a DBA, it will not prevent other companies in other jurisdictions from using the same or similar names for their businesses. In fact, although most counties will not allow identical DBAs in the same jurisdiction, some will. Some business owners therefore take the extra step of applying for trademark protection of their business name.

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How to Become a DBA
 

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Cancelling a DBA

A "doing business as" name, also known as a trade name and a fictitious business name, is the name under which a business operates that may be different from its original, official name. A company may use DBAs to conduct business under a different name for various reasons. For example, a foreign company may use a DBA in a specific location because its creation name is being used by another business in the same area. When a business no longer needs its DBA name, it can cancel the name registration with the local government agency that handles DBA registrations.

Do You Need a DBA for Sole Proprietorship?

A sole proprietor can work under her own name or operate under a catchy business nickname. A DBA, which stands for "doing business as," can help you create a marketable trade name and identity. State laws regarding DBAs vary. A reputable, online legal document provider can complete DBA registration requirements that may apply to you.

How Important Is a DBA?

A trade name, which is the DBA, or doing business as, name, may well be a business's most valuable asset. Through its DBA, a business helps the public form a positive association between the name and the business's services or products. A DBA can create legal and economic problems for a business if it is too similar to a trade name of another business, while registering a DBA can help protect a business trade name against misuse by other businesses.

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