Picking the Perfect Name for Your Corporation
In chosing a name for your corporation, it's a good idea to start the process with several choices, and then research those that are available. It's very possible that your first choice may not be.
In general, no Secretary of State will allow the filing of Articles of Incorporation if the corporate name is the same as, or closely resembles, any name on each state's official list of corporate names. This list includes names of corporations in good standing, foreign corporations qualified to transact business in the state, and corporate names reserved in the state. Read Trademark Considerations in Choosing a Corporate Name for more details.
Another reason for starting with several choices for your corporate name is that not only will you be choosing a name and incorporating to do business in your state of choice, but you'll also be choosing an Internet domain name for your corporation. If possible, having the corporate name bear some relation to the corporation's domain name is preferable. Because of the international aspects of the Internet, the selection of a domain name increases the possibilities that you'll be unable to use your first choice of a domain name.
Choose a desirable, usable name
- Get your name right the first time. If you don't choose your name carefully, you may be forced to change it, which will require amending your Articles of Incorporation, changing your domain name, obtaining new listings in telephone and other directories, and purchasing new stationery. By getting the name right the first time, you can build a strong brand that will last.
- Name variations. Be aware of spelling and punctuation variations of your chosen name, as well as synonyms, homonyms, and phonetic equivalents.
- Purely geographic or generic names. It's wise to steer clear of purely geographic or generic names, because they're easy to forget and difficult to protect. Geographic names can be very limiting, particularly when it's likely that your corporation will have a Web site that's accessible from anywhere in the world.
- Incorporating an already existing business. If you're incorporating an already existing business, you may wish to add "Inc." or "Corporation" after that name.
- Using your own name. If you're set on using your own name as your corporation's name, then go ahead and do that, by adding "Inc." or Corporation" after your own name.
- Ask for suggestions. One final inquiry should be to ask colleagues, business associates, customers, clients, vendors, friends, and even spouses, siblings, and parents, for suggestions and comments on your name choices. You might end up with a perfect reason to eliminate a name you thought was great. And best of all, not only are these suggestions useful, but they're also free.
- Legal restrictions and requirements for name. Because corporations are creatures of the state in which they're incorporated, you must follow any naming requirements and legal restrictions of the state in which you have chosen to incorporate. A corporation is generally identified with a corporate designator at the end of its name, such as "Corporation," "Incorporated," "Limited," "Company," or an abbreviation of the preceding, "Corp.," "Inc.," "Ltd.," or "Co."
Each state will have its own specific legal restrictions on corporate names. These restrictions can be as simple as stating preference for upper or lower case, or they can prevent the corporation from having certain words in its name, such as "bank," "financial institution," "cooperative," "Federal," "Reserve," "National," or "United States."
Secretaries of State may also have an unwritten policy on swear words or words that appear to be "obscene." Unless you have a very good reason and are interested in spending large amounts of time and money on a fight, you'll want to stay away from those types of names for your corporation.
Each state's Secretary of State manages the corporate formations, which include providing information on the requirements and legal restrictions for corporate naming.
Check name availability in chosen state of incorporation
The general rule for corporate names is that they must be unique. In other words, there may not be more than one corporation per name per state. Furthermore, a new corporation may not have a name that is deceptively or confusingly similar to a registered corporation in good standing. This is true even if you wish to use your own name in your corporate name. Placing a .com, or .net at the end of a corporate name is considered a part of any corporation's name, so that adding .com or .net to a name similar, or the same as one you desire, will not make that name available to you if the name is already in use.
To determine whether your name is available in your chosen state, you'll need to contact the Secretary of State for that state, either by viewing the Web site, calling, or writing a letter. If your chosen state has a list of active corporations, you can enter your choice of corporate names and see if it's already in use. If another corporation has the name you want, you can't use it. Try looking up a name with variations or a completely different name. It's unlikely that you'll be able to discover whether your choice has been "reserved" with your chosen state's Secretary of State.
Many states offer a service whereby the Secretary of State will officially check to see if a name is available. This service can take place over the telephone or by letter, and there may be a charge. Once it's determined that a name is available, the next step can be to reserve the name, or immediately file incorporation papers. It may be possible to check availability and reserve a name simultaneously. See Reserving a Corporate Name for discussion on this subject.
One way to incorporate your business is to use an incorporation service. The fees for this service include the determination of whether your chosen corporate name is available. Before deciding to use such a service, it's still a good idea to have gone through the process described above, to find out if your chosen name is available.
Three companies that provide a broad range of services are:
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