How to Set Up a Business Name in Wisconsin

By Mark Kennan

Your business name is the first thing your customers learn about you. Customers use it to recommend you to others, and you use it to promote your business. In Wisconsin, unincorporated businesses need to register their name with both the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions and the county Register of Deeds in which they do business. Incorporated businesses register their name as part of the incorporation process.

Name Availability

Before attempting to register your name, you should determine whether it would infringe on any existing name, registered or unregistered. The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions maintains a searchable database of registered names that can serve as a starting point for making sure the name you want to set up is not already taken. The Department of Financial Institutions also recommends checking the Internet, telephone books, trade journals and other publications available at the public library to make sure you aren't infringing on another party's name.

Corporations, LLPs, and LLCs

If you plan to operate your business as a corporation, including an S corporation, limited liability corporation or limited liability partnership, your name will be set up when you incorporate or organize the business. For these business entities, you need to file articles of incorporation, or articles of organization, with the Department of Financial Institutions. Generally, it takes about five working days to approve charter documents in Wisconsin. If you have a name that you want to use, but aren't quite ready to start your business, you can reserve the business name for up to 120 days -- or 60 days for limited partnerships -- for a small fee.

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Unincorporated Registration with Counties

If you plan to have a sole proprietorship or regular partnership, you should first register your business name with each county in which you plan to do business. If you do business in multiple counties, you must register with each register of deeds, but the form is the same for each county. In the county registration form, you need to specify the county in which you want to register, your name, your business name, and the names of your associates in the business, if any. You also have to specify whether you are operating as a sole proprietorship, partnership or association. This form must be notarized.

Unincorporated Registration with the State

You should also register your business name at the state level with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. Registering with the state, while optional, gives notice of your business name throughout the entire state. The Department of Financial Institutions application requires your identifying information, your type of entity if you are not registering the name as an individual, and the name you want to register. You also have to specify the first date on which you used the name so that in the event of a conflict, you have a record of when you started using the name. All applications must be notarized and include a fee.

Warning

In Wisconsin, using the business name, not just registering the name, grants a party rights to the name. For example, if another business has been using the name you want for a number of years without registering it, that business could have rights to the name even if you register it first. Therefore, just because the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions accepts your name, that does not mean you have exclusive rights to the name.

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How to Register a Trade Name
 

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A DBA, or "doing business as," is a name you use for your business besides your real name. DBAs are also known as fictitious names or trade names in some states. For example, if you want to call your business "Glamorous Ghost Writers," you have to register that name before you may use it for business. A DBA allows you to have a more descriptive name for your business than just "Jane Doe" or "Kevin Smart, Inc." Even in states where registration is not necessary, you often receive additional protection against others using the same name if you register with the state.

How to Get a DBA in Virginia

A DBA, short for "doing business as," is known as a fictitious name in Virginia. Using a fictitious name allows you to operate your business using something other than your given name. For example, if you'd rather call your grocery store "Family Friendly Foods" than use your name, you must register "Family Friendly Foods" as a fictitious name. Virginia law makes it a misdemeanor punishable by fines and up to a year in jail if you use a fictitious name without registering.

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.

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