Just Starting Out
If you're just starting your business and your state requires some form of registration of your business, your name is registered when you officially register your company with the appropriate state agency. For example, limited liability companies usually must file articles of organization with the secretary of state, and corporations must file articles of incorporation. Once your business entity is officially formed and registered, you can operate the business under its registered name. For example, when you submit articles of organization for Manny's Muscle Cars, LLC, that counts as official registration of that business name.
If for some reason you don't want to use the registered name of your business, you may need to file a doing business as, or DBA, name, also known as a trade name, assumed name or fictitious name, depending on the state you're in. Similarly, if you are a sole proprietorship and want to do business under a different name than your given name, you also need a DBA. For example, if your name is Manny Hernandez and you want to operate a sole proprietorship as Manny's Muscle Cars, you typically have to register that DBA name with the state or in the county in which you are doing business.
DBA Registration Forms
The forms for registering a DBA vary from state to state. Generally, you need either your name or the name of the business that's registering the DBA, the address of the applicant and the business's registered agent, the business address and the type of activities the business operates. You'll likely need to pay a filing fee to register the trade name. In many states, your business name must be distinguishable from other already registered names. But, some states, like Colorado, don't require the name to be unique. However, if you register and use a name already in use, you could be sued by the prior user of the name.
Like the forms, the process for registering a DBA varies from state to state. In most states, the DBA is registered with the secretary of state. However, in some states business entities register DBAs at the county level. For example, in Texas, sole proprietors and general partnerships register assumed names with the office of the county clerk where the business is located. Although many states require paper filings, some, such as Colorado, use only online filings for trade names. Others, including Utah, allow you to register online, in person or by mailing in an application.