How to check if a business name has been taken: Where to look and why it matters

Last updated 24 May 2023
  1. Introduction
  2. Why you need to check if a business name is available
  3. How to find out if a business name has been taken
    1. For businesses in the US, check state and federal business registration and trademark databases
    2. For businesses located outside the US, check local registers
    3. Find out what other names businesses are using
    4. Do a manual internet search
  4. What to do if your desired business name has been taken
  5. How Stripe can help
    1. The Stripe Atlas application
    2. Forming the company in Delaware
    3. Getting your IRS tax ID (EIN)
    4. Purchasing your shares in the company
    5. Filing your 83(b) tax election
    6. Partner perks and discounts

The business name you choose must be memorable, resonant and communicate quickly who you are to the world. It’s your first introduction to customers, investors and prospective employees – and it’s a name you’ll be reading, writing and speaking out loud every day for years to come.

Finding the perfect name for your business is a serious undertaking, with many founders and leadership teams enlisting professional naming experts on a regular basis. An entire micro-industry has sprung up to help budding businesses find the right name. And the naming process involves more than trying to find a name that all the stakeholders like. The right name is one that everyone can be excited about – and one that is not already taken by another company.

So how do you find out if a business name has already been claimed by someone else? We’ll cover what you need to know about naming your business and how to make sure the names on your shortlist are available.

What’s in this article?

  • Why you need to check if a business name is available
  • How to find out if a business name has been taken
  • What to do if your desired business name has been taken

Why you need to check if a business name is available

There are both legal and practical considerations to choosing a unique business name. Here’s why it’s necessary to check the availability of a business name before you become too attached:

  • The law requires it
    It’s hard to argue with this one. A new business cannot choose a name that’s identical to that of an entity that already exists, nor can the name be only marginally different. For example, if there’s a business already registered that uses the name "Big Al’s Balloons", you cannot register your new business as "Big Al’s Balloon Supplies".

  • Risk of copyright infringement
    Attempting to register a business legally or trade using a name that encroaches on someone else’s copyright opens you up to a potential lawsuit. And that’s before taking into account the financial and logistical cost of renaming your business. Consider the marketing costs associated with changing the name of your business. Business cards, domain names, brochures, signage, social media handles and other such things all incur production and labour costs that could mean a steep loss if you have to stop using a name that has already been trademarked.

  • Brand differentiation
    A time-honoured rule in the world of branding: no name is so good that it’s worth risking your brand being confused with another for. A strong business name is one that people will come to associate readily with your business – and only your business. The perfect name for your business is one that isn’t too similar to any other business name, especially any name that operates in your same market niche.

How to find out if a business name has been taken

Once you begin the process of selecting a name for your business, you’ll soon realise that there is more than one comprehensive list of business names that you can consult. The task of finding businesses whose names might overlap with your chosen name requires research in several different areas:

For businesses in the US, check state and federal business registration and trademark databases

There are a number of large databases you can search to see if any other entity has an existing claim to a business name you’re considering:

For businesses located outside the US, check local registers

Most countries have a similar register of business entities. Here’s a list of registers around the world.

Find out what other names businesses are using

It’s common for businesses to use names other than their officially registered corporate entity name. These names are called DBAs – short for "doing business as". When doing research about your own prospective business name, you’ll want to research DBAs as well as legal entity names. Depending on where you plan to register your business, the local laws governing DBA registration and use might vary. Even if a business hasn’t officially registered a name, they might still have a valid legal claim if they’ve been using it for a certain period of time.

Painstakingly combing through every available database is no substitute for a simple internet search. Depending on your industry and market, conducting a thorough search may look a little different, but here are a few sources that will assist most searches:

  • Google
    Without a doubt, this is the logical starting point for any internet search.

  • Yelp
    If you’re starting a business that will operate in a specific locality, Yelp offers a valuable overview of the businesses currently operating in that area. More importantly, it will show you the everyday, consumer-facing names they use.

  • LinkedIn
    There are no barriers to creating business profiles on LinkedIn, which makes it a useful tool for finding businesses using DBAs.

  • Crunchbase
    Because Crunchbase reports on startup funding from the earliest stages, it’s an excellent place to learn about startups – and the names they’re using – that might not yet exist anywhere else on the internet or official registers.

What to do if your desired business name has been taken

There are three scenarios that could cause you to reconsider the use of a business name:

  1. Another business entity is already officially registered using that name or a name that’s so similar that your chosen name would not be approved.
  2. Someone else has a trademark over the name, which could present an obstacle to using that name, even if the trademark holder is not actively using it themselves.
  3. While no entity is formally registered with the name, another business is currently doing business under it to a degree that would likely give them rights to the name by legal precedent.

If any of the above scenarios apply, you have two options: pick another name or attempt to acquire the rights to the name from the party that currently has a claim to it. If you pick the second option, you might contact them directly and, effectively, offer to buy them out of the name and have ownership transferred with the relevant registers such as Companies House or Company Data Shop.

Alternatively, you could try to negotiate a licensing agreement that would allow you to use the name for your business while the original owner retains ownership. This might involve paying a fee or royalty to the owner for the use of the name. This option could be more complex and require legal assistance to ensure that the agreement is drafted and executed properly. Ultimately, it’s important to consider your options carefully and consult with a legal professional before making any decisions regarding the use of a business name that is already in use by another party.

How Stripe can help

Stripe Atlas makes it simple to incorporate and set up your company so you're ready to charge customers, hire your team and fundraise as quickly as possible.

Fill out your company details in the Stripe Atlas form in less than ten minutes. Then, we'll incorporate your company in Delaware, get your IRS tax ID (EIN) for you, help you purchase your shares in the new company with one click and automatically file your 83(b) tax election. Atlas offers multiple legal templates for contracts and hiring, and can also help you open a bank account and start accepting payments even before the IRS assigns your tax ID.

Atlas founders also gain access to exclusive discounts at leading software partners, one-click onboarding with selected partners and free Stripe payments processing credits. Start your company today.

The Stripe Atlas application

It takes less than ten minutes to fill out the details of your new company. You'll choose your company structure (C corporation, limited liability company or subsidiary) and pick a company name. Our instant company name checker will let you know if it's available before you submit your application. You can add up to four additional cofounders, decide how you split equity between them and reserve an equity pool for future teammates if you choose. You'll appoint officers, add an address and phone number (founders are eligible for one year of a free virtual address if you need one), and review and sign your legal documents in one click.

Forming the company in Delaware

Atlas will review your application and file your formation documents in Delaware within one working day. All Atlas applications include expedited 24-hour processing service at the state, for no extra fee. Atlas charges US$500 for your formation and your first year of registered agent services (a state compliance requirement), and US$100 each year thereafter to maintain your registered agent.

Getting your IRS tax ID (EIN)

After your formation in Delaware is complete, Atlas will file for your company's IRS tax ID. Founders who provide a US Social Security number, US address and US phone are eligible for expedited processing; all other users will receive standard processing. For standard orders, Atlas calls the IRS to retrieve the EIN for you, using real-time IRS data to determine when your filing is likely to be available. You can read more about how Atlas retrieves your EIN and view current tax ID ETAs.

Purchasing your shares in the company

After Atlas forms the company, we'll automatically issue shares to the founders and help you purchase them so you formally own your share in the company. Atlas allows founders to purchase their shares with intellectual property in one click and reflect this in your company documents, so you don't need to mail and track cash or check payments.

Filing your 83(b) tax election

Many startup founders choose to file an 83(b) tax election to potentially save on future personal taxes. Atlas can file and mail your 83(b) tax election in one click for both US and non-US founders—no trip to the post office required. We'll file it using USPS Certified Mail with tracking, and you'll get a copy of your signed 83(b) election and proof of filing in your Dashboard.

Partner perks and discounts

Atlas partners with a range of third-party tools to offer special pricing or access to Atlas founders. We offer discounts on engineering, tax and finance, compliance and operations tools, including OpenAI and Amazon Web Services. Atlas also partners with Mercury, Carta and AngelList to provide faster, automatic onboarding using your Atlas company information, so you can get ready to bank and fundraise even faster. Atlas founders may also access discounts on other Stripe products, including up to one year of free credits toward payments processing.

Read our Atlas guides for startup founders, or learn more about Stripe Atlas and how it can help you set up your new business quickly and easily. Start your company now.

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