If a business wants to operate with a name that is different from the name used to form the business, it must register the new name (called a trade name).
This is often called filing for a DBA, or "doing business as." For example, if “Frank’s Hot Dogs LLC” wants to do business as “Best Hot Dogs in Town” then the owners have to file a DBA.
In California a DBA is filed with the county clerk or county recorder in the county where the business is located. There is no option to file for a DBA on the state level.
When you need a DBA
Under California law, sole proprietors, partnerships, limited liability companies and corporations must file a DBA if they plan to operate under a different name.
A sole proprietor must file a DBA if he or she does not intend to use his or her surname, or if the business name suggests other unnamed owners, e.g. “Smith & Sons.”
Setting up a DBA in California
Filing for a DBA in California begins with ensuring that the name that you want is not already in use. You can search the database provided in the local county clerk’s and/or recorder’s office, or search online if that service is made available in that particular jurisdiction.
Furthermore, you will need to avoid the use of certain words and phrases. A California fictitious name cannot contain words such as: “Inc.,” ‘Incorporated’, ‘Corporation, Corp, Limited Liability Corporation, LLC or LP if the business is not legally formed as one of those business structures in either California or another jurisdiction.
California also requires that a DBA statement be published in a local newspaper within 30 days of filing the relevant DBA form with the local county clerk’s and/or recorder’s office. Publication must appear in the newspaper once a week for four consecutive weeks.
After running in the publication for four weeks, the entity must obtain an affidavit of publication from the newspaper and file it with the local county clerk’s and/or recorder’s office no more than 30 days after the final publication.
California DBA Forms
You can obtain the requisite DBA certificate and/or form from the appropriate county clerk’s and/or recorder’s office, or you can use LegalZoom to file your DBA.
California DBA filing and registration
When filling out the DBA paperwork you must use the exact, current legal name of the company (or your own name if you’re a sole proprietorship).
The filer must also include the entity’s principal place of business and, for California LLCs, the address used in the articles of incorporation when the LLC was formed. The names and home addresses of all business owners or partners should also be included.
The form must be signed on behalf of the entity by a corporate officer, a general partner of a limited partnership, or by a member or manager of a limited liability company. The fee for a DBA filing depends upon the fee structure of the local county clerk’s and/or recorder’s office.
If you file for a DBA in California that will change the name you can do business under, but it will not affect the status of the entity for tax purposes.
Instead, the structure of the entity itself (S-Corporation, LLC, etc.) will determine the entity’s tax status.
Find out more about DBA State Requirements