The business name you choose must be memorable, resonant, and quickly communicate who you are to the world. It’s your first introduction to customers, investors, and prospective hires—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 routinely enlisting professional naming experts. 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 get 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 is taken
- What to do if your desired business name is 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 get too attached:
State law requires it
It’s hard to argue with this one. Each state stipulates that a new business cannot choose a name that’s identical to an entity that already exists, nor can the name be only marginally different. For example, if there’s a business already registered in your state that uses the name “Big Al’s Balloons,” you can’t register your new business as “Big Al’s Balloon Supplies.”
Risk of copyright infringement
Attempting to legally register or do business 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 collateral all have production and labor costs that could mean a steep loss if you have to stop using an already trademarked name.
A time-honored rule in the world of branding: no name is so good that it’s worth risking your brand getting confused with another. A strong business name is one that people will come to readily associate 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 space.
How to find out if a business name is taken
Once you begin the process of selecting a name for your business, you’ll quickly realize that there’s not just one comprehensive list of business names that you can consult. The task of finding businesses whose names might overlap with your chosen name requires researching in a few different areas:
For businesses in the US, check state and federal business registrations and trademarks 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:
- United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
- Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS)
- ICANN Domain Name Registration Data Lookup
- Office of the Secretary of State (check the state where your business is located)
For businesses located outside the US, check local registries
Most countries have a similar registry of business entities. Here’s a list of registries 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, 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.
Do a manual internet search
Painstakingly combing through every available database is no substitute for a simple internet search. Depending on your industry and market, conducting a thorough search might look a bit different, but here are a few sources that will assist most searches:
Without a doubt, this is the logical starting point for any internet search.
If you’re starting a business that will operate in a specific locality, Yelp offers valuable visibility into the businesses currently operating in that area. More importantly, it will show you the everyday, consumer-facing names they use.
There are no barriers to creating business profiles on LinkedIn, which makes it a useful tool for finding businesses using DBAs.
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 registries.
What to do if your desired business name is taken
There are three scenarios that would stall your use of a business name:
- Another business entity in your state is already officially registered using that name or a name that’s similar enough that your chosen name would not get approved.
- 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.
- 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 common law rights to the name.
If any of the above scenarios are true, you have two options: pick another name or make a play to acquire rights to the name from the party that currently has a claim to it. If you pick the second option, you might reach out to them directly and effectively offer to buy them out of the name and have ownership transferred with the secretary of state’s office in your state.
Alternatively, you could try to negotiate a licensing agreement that would allow you to use the name for your business, but the original owner would retain 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 properly drafted and executed. Ultimately, it’s important to carefully consider your options 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 10 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 select partners, and free Stripe payments processing credits. Start your company today.
The Stripe Atlas application
It takes less than 10 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 business day. All Atlas applications include expedited 24-hour processing service at the state, for no extra fee. Atlas charges $500 for your formation and your first year of registered agent services (a state compliance requirement), and $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.