How to check if a business name is taken: 4 methods

If you're starting a new business, it's important to make sure the name you choose isn't already taken. Here's how.

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June 11, 2024 |

Any entrepreneur can tell you that starting a business is an exciting—and demanding—time in your life. There are dozens of things to take care of, from nailing down your business goals to consulting experts in the field and hiring your first employees.

Before you can do any of that, however, you first have to choose the right name for your business.

A group of entrepreneurs sits around a table and looks up potential business names online. Checking if your business name of choice is taken is a simple but important process.

And that, of course, means conducting a business name availability check. If you overlook this step of starting a business, it can lead to issues with trademark infringement laws, advertising confusion, and a brand identity crisis. Luckily for you, there are four easy ways to check if a prospective business name is taken.

How to check business name availability

While there are other things to consider when naming your business, finding out whether a business name is taken can be done in one of four main ways:

Perform a simple internet search

One of the fastest and easiest ways to check whether a business name is available is to use a search engine. That said, search engine results only go so far, and relying on them entirely during the naming process may open you up to headaches later.

Instead, use search engine results as a jumping-off point for more formal searches or to help you think up a list of unique names. Searching for businesses with the same name also can help you get a feel for competition in your industry and plan accordingly.

Check with your Secretary of State

As a way to support small businesses and entrepreneurs, every state has some form of business entity name search, usually on its Secretary of State website. In most states, would-be business owners have access to a basic, free business search, but some states charge a small fee per query.

Even better, many state-based business searches allow you to filter by business structure, name, or even the identification number you'd find on a company's legal documents. This can help you ensure that your new business' name isn't taken or is too similar to an existing company.

Keep in mind that the steps to conduct a business search this way change from state to state, so it's best to do your homework before following this path.

Try a DBA search

Sometimes, a limited liability company, corporation, or sole proprietorship may choose to advertise with a name other than the one with which they originally registered. This is known as a DBA, or "doing business as." When business entities go this route, they aren't always required to register their DBA with the state, so figuring out if a business name is taken can be a bit trickier.

If you're in one of the states that requires DBA registration, simply use the state office's resources to do a search. If not, it's usually best to opt for a more thorough search through social media, search engines, and even e-commerce websites like Amazon.

Run a USPTO trademark search

Even if you find what you need with one of the other three options we've listed here, it may be in your business' best interests to check for registered trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trade Office (USPTO). Not only can running a trademark search help you avoid potential legal troubles, but it can also give you invaluable insights into your competitors and industry as a whole.

While you're at it, consider trademarking your own business name, logo, or other aspects of your company.

Why you should check if a business name is available

Although performing a business name search is a good idea for a number of reasons, such as market and competitor research, the key reason is to keep your business compliant with state and federal laws.

No matter how well-prepared or clean your business application may be, choosing a name that uses forbidden terms, doesn't include a business structure designator, or is indistinguishable from competitors may earn you a frustrating rejection.

So, even in the states with fees to perform a business name search, it's well worth the time and money to do a quick check—if only for peace of mind.

How to choose a business name

Name generators can furnish imaginative concepts for a business name, saving you time and effort in the naming process. This woman uses a name generator to come up with ideas for her new business.

Either before or after you do a business name search, there are some things to keep in mind when choosing a business name of your own.

Make it memorable

Apple. Nike. Amazon. As a rule, the best businesses are those with memorable names, something easy to say and easy to remember when the moment arises. That said, don't sacrifice clarity for uniqueness; going too far into the "creative" can easily come off as bizarre, unnatural, or confusing.

Make it scalable

Unless you know for a fact that you want to keep your business small and local, try to avoid words or phrases that would hinder future efforts to scale. This can include business names with technical jargon that wouldn't make sense to average consumers or language that ties you to a specific market or location.

This is especially important for businesses that intend to go global or expand across state lines at some point in the future. A slightly confusing business name in one place may suddenly become very confusing to potential customers in another, so either create a DBA for foreign markets or choose wisely when first naming your company.

Make it legal

Although this one should go without saying, make sure that your business name complies with all state and federal laws. Usually, this means attaching a business designator (such as LLC or LTD), avoiding terms such as "bank" or "insurance" unless pre-approved, and having a business name that's distinguishable from competitors.

Make it relevant

While not true in all cases, it's often good for small businesses to choose a name that relates to the service or product they offer. Not only can this simplify branding and marketing, but it also helps introduce your business to the market in clear, uncomplicated terms.

What to do if your business name is taken

Before you start your business, it's best to see if the name is already being used. This man is checking online as he has a cup of coffee. Businesses can trademark their names nationwide if they register the name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Sometimes, your first choice for a business name may already be taken (if not the second, third, and fourth choices). This is especially common in more competitive industries, but it can happen regardless of the service or product your business provides.

When you encounter this issue, there are four main ways to resolve it:

Buy an existing trademark

Once a business name has been trademarked, it's possible to sell or buy that trademark if the owner so chooses. This means that it's entirely possible to reach out to a business owner and try to negotiate a sale.

While you’re less likely to be successful with large, established businesses, many small business owners may be willing to sell their trademark and change names—for the right price.

Buy the business entity

A more extreme option is to buy the business tied to the trademark you want. Typically reserved for higher-potential business ideas whose success hinges on having the right name, this can be a way to know for certain that you legally own the name you need, free and clear.

Choose something similar (but distinct)

If all else fails, choose a name similar to your top choices but distinct enough to avoid the risk of legal or branding issues down the line. This can take time and a bit of creativity, but you can also use online business name generators or hire contractors to help develop and test concepts.
Why choosing the right business name matters

Ask any business owner, and they'll tell you that a business' name obviously matters. Breaking down exactly why it matters, though, can help clarify the process.

Why choosing the right business name matters

Ask any business owner, and they'll tell you that a business' name obviously matters. Breaking down exactly why it matters, though, can help clarify the process.

Brand identity

Nine times out of 10, your business' name is the first thing potential customers will encounter when beginning a search for a product or service. Even later, once they've tried you out, it'll be your business name they use when referring you to a friend, searching for new products online, or leaving a good review.

To that end, take as much time as you need to get your business name right. And if you already have a business name that isn't performing like you'd hoped? Simply look into filing a DBA and swapping to something more effective.

Advertising and SEO

A common tactic used by many companies is to choose a company name that people would already search, such as "therapy online" or "Green Bay dog grooming." While these names usually aren't the most unique, they can simplify online advertising and search engine optimization.
Alternatively, choose a name that lends itself to creative advertising or sets you apart from competitors. This may take more time on the front end but can pay off in the long run.

Business reputation

After working so hard to build your company, the last thing you want is to be confused with another business that may not have such a sterling reputation. Unfortunately, customers confuse similarly named businesses with one another, which happens all too often.

Secure your brand presence online

 An internet search is the quickest way to eliminate your chosen company name due to an existing business. A man and woman who co-own a tailor shop check for name possibilities online.

Even after you've registered your business name of choice, there are still a few steps every business owner should take to solidify their claim and begin building an online presence.

Search for domain names

Getting the business name you want is an excellent start, but it's even better to get the domain name that goes with it. Search online for domain name availability. Usually, you'll be able to find something close to what you need.

Sometimes, however, the business name you want will be available—but not the related domain name. This is often because of something known as "cybersquatting." Individuals buy domain names they think will eventually become valuable, then wait for prospective business owners to come knocking.

When this happens, these cybersquatters will make it very clear how to contact them to negotiate a sale and will usually list an asking price for each domain name they possess. If, however, a cybersquatter deliberately reserves a domain name related to an existing trademark, business owners can pursue legal avenues rather than buying the name outright.

Check social media handles

Depending on who you ask, social media handles are at least as important as your domain name when starting a business. Check Facebook, Instagram, X, TikTok, and other platforms to see how to reserve the social media handle you want.

By doing so, you can maintain a consistent brand presence and identity as you advertise and gain exposure.

Research other states

Even if you only plan to operate within your business' home state for the time being, it can pay off to research other name availability in other states, too. Often, a business name that's available in one state won't be in another, so planning ahead can help streamline any expansions you do later on.

Remember that all states have a business name checker, so simply repeat the process you did for your original search in the new state.

Register your business name and trademark

After you've done everything you need to choose a business name, reserve domains, and social media handles, and prepare for future expansions, it's time to actually register your trademark and get to business.

Business entity registration

Following the rules we outlined earlier (and any state-specific laws), submit your business to be registered under its chosen name. This is typically done through the Secretary of State's office in the state in which you intend to do business.

If you need more help with this step, follow an expert-verified business registration guide to make sure it goes off without a hitch.

Trademark protection

Registering a trademark is one of the single most important ways to protect your business from intellectual property infringement, fraud, and even problems with brand reputation due to confusion around names.

Luckily, claiming a trademark is just as simple as doing a business name search. Just head to the USPTO website and follow its process. If you need help, this trademark registration guide will lead you through the step-by-step process.

Start your business

Whether you're creating an LLC, forming a corporation, or planning to continue on as a sole proprietor, you're officially ready to start your business and file articles of organization. Congratulations!

From here on out, you'll likely face countless challenges and opportunities—but hopefully none involving your chosen business name.


Two women look at a desktop computer screen as they check to see if the name they want to use for their new business is available.

Why is it important to check if my business name is taken?

Running a business name search helps make sure that your name is distinct from competitors, legally available, and doesn't infringe on any existing trademarks or intellectual properties.

Additionally, checking business names ahead of time can prevent issues such as complicated advertising, brand confusion among customers, and issues with your company's reputation.

What tools are available to help me check my business name?

Entrepreneurs can use tools like Google, various social media platforms, the USPTO's cloud-based trademark search engine, and even private business name checkers to determine business name availability.

Can I register a business name that's similar to an existing one?

While it is possible to register a name similar to that of an existing business, your chosen name must be distinguishable from competitors. Though this usually comes down to the state's judgment, the rules around having distinct business names are meant to help consumers distinguish between similar companies.

What should I do if my desired business name is taken?

If you try and fail to secure the business name you want, consider spending time thinking of similar names. Sometimes, business owners will hire creative contractors to help with this process.

Regardless of which route you choose, it's typically wise to run your name ideas by an attorney to make sure they comply with trademark laws.

What is cybersquatting,’ and how do I deal with it?

Cybersquatting refers to the practice of buying domain names with the intent to sell them later on.

Usually, domain names owned this way are priced according to their potential value and have clear ways to contact the owners and organize a sale.

What are the penalties for trademark infringement?

Trademark infringement laws and penalties can vary from one place to another, but they generally range from actual damages (the money a trademark owner lost because of the infringement) to injunctions (court orders requiring a business to stop work) and even criminal charges (though these are reserved for the most extreme cases).

Is a business name search expensive?

Many states provide a business name checker free of charge for entrepreneurs, with others charging a small fee for each search performed.

Ready to start your business? Plans start at $0 + filing fees.

LegalZoom provides comprehensive legal, tax, and compliance products to run and grow your business with confidence. We've helped more than 4 million people form businesses over the past 20 years. LegalZoom also gives customers access to trusted, affordable legal help via our independent network of attorneys. This article is for informational purposes and is not legal advice. It is the expression of the author and has not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy. Information may have changed from the date of publication.

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