Considerations for Choosing Your Small Business Name

This is a guest post submitted by Sarah Levy of Merchant Express. Visit the Merchant Express Resource Center for more great small business resources.

What’s in a name? When it’s the name of your small business, there’s a lot riding on getting it right. There was a time when all you had to do was choose a moniker that reflected the products or services your business provides — Ahab’s Fish Shack, for example, or Betty’s Yarn Barn. But today, with the emergence of brands and marketing, the Internet and social media, a little more reflection and homework is in order.

Choosing the Right Name

Ideally, you will choose the name that most closely reflects your brand identity. Brand (derived from branding, as in cattle) is defined as a name, term, design, symbol or other feature that identifies one seller’s goods or services as being distinct from those of other sellers. Think of your brand as the personality that identifies your business. Your brand identity is the outward expression of your brand.

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When choosing a name for your small business, consider not only how it will sound but how it will look on a sign, on the web, in social media and as part of your logo. Obviously, it needs to be long enough to convey your brand but not so long as to become an impediment to the applications listed.

Make sure it reflects your business philosophy and culture, and that it appeals to your target market. Does it truly “fit” your business, or is it too formal (or not formal enough?) It should be unique enough to be memorable and lend itself to being featured in a variety of settings.

Trademark the Name

A trademark is a brand name. Once you’ve settled on a name (or two or three), you must check to make sure it (or a close variation) is not already trademarked. Learn everything you need to know about trademarks on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) website. Not only does it provide basic information about trademarks, but it also allows you to search trademarks, file forms online, check their status and view documents.

“Although not required, most applicants use private trademark attorneys for legal advice regarding use of their trademark, filing an application, and the likelihood of success in the registration process, since not all applications proceed to registration,” according to the USPTO site. “A private trademark attorney (not associated with the USPTO) may help you avoid many potential pitfalls.”

Filing for a trademark costs less than $300. Applications are accepted online through the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS).

Federal registration of a mark is not mandatory, but it does have its advantages, primary of which is the protection of your rights. Other benefits include:

  • a notice to the public of your claim of ownership of the mark
  • a legal presumption of ownership nationwide
  • the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods and/or services listed in the registration.

It is important to note that the USPTO does not monitor the use of trademarks, although it does attempt to ensure that no other party receives a federal registration for an identical or similar mark for related goods or services. Consequently, as the owner of the trademark, you are responsible for bringing any legal action to stop a party from using an infringing mark.

Register Your “Doing Business As” Name

When you form a business, the legal name of the business defaults to the name of the person or entity that owns the business. If you choose to call it something else, you should register the new name as a DBA (Doing Business As) name. This is also referred to as a trade name or assumed name.

Registering your DBA lets your state government know that you’re doing business as a name other than your own personal name or the legal name of your partnership or corporation. Registering the legal name of your business is important because it is required on all government forms and applications, including your application for employer tax IDs, licenses and permits.

If your name is also your business name, you can skip DBA registering. A DBA is typically needed by sole proprietors or partnerships and for existing corporations or LLCs. The U.S. Small Business Administration offers a DBA guide online.

Claim Your Website Address

Your URL is crucial to your web presence, so claim it as soon as possible. You can find out if your business name has already been taken online by doing a simple web search — just type it into a search engine and hit “enter”.

If it’s not already being used, you also need to see whether the domain name is available. Visit the WHOIS data base of domain names and follow the step-by-step instructions.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to set up your social media identity as well, starting with Facebook and Twitter. Note that Facebook requires you to have 25 fans in order to claim a vanity or custom URL. Many businesses reach this milestone quickly by asking friends, family and customers to “like” their FB page.

Whatever name you end up using, really own it — and best of luck in your small business endeavors!

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