Registering your freelance business as a Limited Liability Company (LLC) comes with a host of perks. But before you can reap the benefits, you need to complete your registration — and that starts with naming your LLC.
Your LLC’s name carries more weight than you might think. It needs to be unique and memorable for customers, as well as act as the legal name that’ll appear on your business’s formal documents. You’ll use this name, referred to as a “trade name,” for everything from setting up your business’s bank account and signing contracts to representing yourself in legal cases.
Generally, the name has to include the term “Limited Liability Company” or “LLC,” and it can’t already be taken by another business in your state. The name of your LLC isn’t necessarily the same as the name of your business — confused?
It’s a bit complex, so we’ve put together this ultimate guide to getting everything right when you name your LLC.
How to name your LLC
Your LLC’s name must be approved by the state agency that handles your application to form an LLC. In most states, this agency is the Office of Secretary of State, but it may be a different agency in some states.
If the Secretary of State rejects your company name, it’ll reject your application to file articles of organization and legally establish your LLC. So check your state agency’s website for the LLC naming requirements in your state.
Your entity name can’t include anything that falsely implies your business is a corporation, bank, insurance company or other type of enterprise that it’s not.
As mentioned above, your company name can’t include anything that falsely implies your business is a corporation, bank, insurance company or other type of enterprise that it’s not.
Here are the general guidelines on how to name an LLC.
LLC names must include “LLC” in the name
Typically, your business’s name must end with the words “Limited Liability Company,” company” or “Limited.” Or you can use abbreviations like “LLC,” “L.L.C.,” or “Ltd.” Usually, you can even opt to abbreviate the words “Limited” and “Company” as “Ltd.” and “Co.” (Most people just stick with “LLC”.)
All states require LLC names to include these words or abbreviations to make it clear the entity is an LLC (not a corporation or another type of entity).
Here are some ways you could legally name your LLC:
- ABC Limited Liability Company
- ABC Limited Liability Co.
- ABC Limited
- ABC L.L.C.
- ABC LLC
- ABC Ltd.
Don’t imply you’re a different type of enterprise
Your name can’t include anything that falsely implies your business is a corporation, bank, insurance company or other type of enterprise that it’s not.
Your LLC’s name can’t contain the words like “bank,” “trust,” “trustee,” “insurer,” “insurance company” or any other words suggesting you’re in the insurance business (unless you are). You can’t include things like “incorporated,” “inc.” or “corporation,” because your LLC is not a corporation.
Don’t mislead the public
Your name can’t include anything that falsely implies your business is a corporation, bank, insurance company or other type of enterprise that it’s not.
The name must match your business’s purpose
You can’t use terms that imply your company is organized for any reason other than the permitted use. So, if you include words like “medical” or “attorney,” for example, you might have to file additional paperwork and prove a relevant licensed professional is part of your LLC.
How to check if LLC names are taken
You can’t name your LLC something that’s the same as or too similar to the name of an existing LLC already on file with your state and, in some cases, other states and internationally.
Before filing your articles of organization for the LLC, check to see whether the name you want is available in your state. Here’s how to check if an LLC name is taken in your state:
- If you’re working with an attorney to form the LLC, they should help you check the name’s availability before filing.
- Search for the name in a business name database through your Secretary of State’s website. Remember this only shows you what’s registered with that state, so it doesn’t guarantee your name is unique across the board.
- In some states, the Office of the Secretary can handle the search for you prior to officially filing, so they can let you know whether the name will be rejected before you submit your business to actual rejection and have to start the filing process all over. Depending on your state, this service might be free or cost a small fee. You just have to file a name search request form online or through the mail.
Even if the name is available for an LLC in your state, you might not want to use it if it’s too similar to a trade name used elsewhere. That could be confusing to your customers, detrimental to your brand and even leave you open to lawsuits.
To figure out whether an LLC name is taken outside of your state:
- Google the name you want to use to see whether anyone, anywhere is using it or something similar.
- Check out SuperPages or the Thomas Register of Products and Services to search for trade and corporate names online for free.
These methods won’t always tell you whether a company’s using your name as a registered LLC name, but they’ll let you know whether they’re using it for their brand (more on that distinction below). This is especially important if they provide similar services.
Tips for naming an LLC
Before you settle on a name for your LLC, consider these tips to choose a name that matches your new business’s overall brand:
- Make sure the domain is available. Making your business name memorable to customers largely comes down to the website domain name in modern business. It should closely or exactly match your business name if possible. Search on domain name registration sites like GoDaddy and Network Solutions to see whether it’s available with a relevant domain extension (e.g. .com, .co, .org, etc.). You might be able to purchase the domain from a current owner if you can’t easily register it yourself, so consider whether the price tag is worth it for your business. Also check to see that your name is available on top social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
- Be distinctive. Choose a name that’ll stand out and help customers remember you and distinguish you clearly from any other company for legal and branding purposes. Some branding experts recommend starting business names with a hard consonant or incorporating alliteration to make it more memorable.
- Keep it short. Choose a name your customer can easily use in a sentence. It should be appealing, memorable, easy to spell and easy to pronounce. Unless it’s integral to your brand, avoid words that are likely to be censored in media and anything containing special characters that are hard to type or reproduce on some platforms.
- Be clear about what you do. Calling your business something like “Oregon Web Design, LLC” might sound boring and unoriginal, but it could be useful for an important marketing strategy: SEO (search engine optimization). Maybe you want to be more creative and broad to keep the long-term possibilities open for your LLC. In that case, you could choose a less specific LLC name and use the more specific name for your domain and branding.
- You as a business owner can name your LLC anything you want, as long as it complies with your state’s guidelines. Naming an LLC after yourself comes with the benefit of being able to easily use that name to sell any products or services you want in the future without brand confusion. It comes with the drawback that the name could be limiting if you want to grow the business beyond yourself or sell it in the future.
- Avoid names similar to those of well-known companies. We’re talking names like Amazon, Apple, Tesla or McDonald’s. Large companies have been known to sue businesses over naming disputes to avoid anyone misleading the public. Steer clear of anything starting with “i” or “Mc”!
How to buy an LLC name
Want to reserve your name before someone else grabs it?
Let’s say you’ve come up with a fabulous name, and you can’t see your business running under any other name. You’ve done your homework and confirmed it’s up for grabs — for now.
To make sure someone doesn’t swoop in and snatch up the name before you’re ready to register your LLC, you can reserve the name with your state. You can do that by filing a name reservation request form with your state’s Office of the Secretary.
You usually have to pay a fee to make such a reservation. In many states, the fee is quite small — as little as $10. In some states, you can file the reservation request online; in others, you have to mail or hand deliver it.
Depending on the state, the Secretary of State will reserve the name for anywhere from 60 to 120 days, and in many states, you can renew the reservation. During the reservation period, you’re the only one who can file articles of organization under that name.
Other than the filing fee to reserve a name, you shouldn’t have to pay to use an LLC name. It’ll simply be included in the articles of organization for your company, which come with their own filing fees.
You may have to pay a fee if you want to protect your business’s name with a registered trademark.
LLC name vs. trademark
Trademarks are different from LLC names — but you might end up trademarking your business name. We know, it gets confusing.
Avoiding trademark violations
You might be able to register your LLC name with your Secretary of State to use as your company’s formal legal name. But that doesn’t give you the right to use the name, or anything similar, as your brand name — i.e. the name you use to sell your products or services.
If another company has your name trademarked, you’ll be restricted from using it for anything beyond your financials and legal documents.
For example, you might be able to register “Apple Accounting, LLC” in your state. But if you try to market your services under the “Apple” brand name, you might run into trademark violations because of a certain computer corporation.
Trademark your business name
Registering your LLC name isn’t the same thing as trademarking the name or using it as a trademark, so make sure you understand this distinction to protect your business from copycats.
Your brand might match your business name, or it might not. For example, Francesca Jimenez might register her business as “Jimenez Consulting Ltd.,” but promote her business publicly as “Grow With Fran.” In that case, Jimenez Consulting Ltd. is her LLC name, and Grow With Fran is her trademark (a.k.a. brand).
Your trademark is automatically protected under common law, so someone else can’t imitate you by doing business under your trademark. But that doesn’t usually give you exclusive rights to the brand. For that, you have to register the trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). (That’s the difference between the (™) and ® symbols you see after a name.)
Using a DBA for an LLC
To avoid confusion for your customers or clients, you can use your trademark name on legal and financial documents by registering a DBA with your state.
DBA stands for “doing business as,” and you obtain it by filing a fictitious name statement or assumed name certificate.
In some states, you can file with the Office of the Secretary for a DBA that applies statewide. In others, you have to file at the county or municipal level and may have to file more than one statement if you do business in more than one location.
Just like your LLC, your DBA name can’t be the same or similar to another DBA on file, and it can’t violate a trademark. Try the search methods above to make sure you’re in the clear.
Steps to forming an LLC
Once you’ve chosen a name for your business, take these steps to form your LLC:
- Fill out an LLC article of organization form with your state.
- Post a public notice with a newspaper or other platform if your state requires it.
- Pay the filing fee, which varies by state.
- Determine your tax structure.
For more specific and in-depth information on how to start an LLC in your state, check out our guide on how to start an LLC for all 50 states.
Can I change my business name?
It is possible to change the name of your business in the future, but it can be a complicated process. The simplest method for a name change is to file a DBA, if you plan on doing business under both your original name as well as your new business name.
Completely switching over your business entity to a new name will require filing paperwork with your state, and will typically involve a name change filing fee. There could be other costs related to rebranding as well, such as creating a new logo, registering a new domain name, and re-printing any physical materials.
If you are completely stumped on business names you could consider using an online business name generator tool to help brainstorm possible LLC name ideas. It’s probably not a good idea to rely on the tool completely, but it can be a good way to generate some business name ideas that you can build on.
Should I name my LLC after myself?
You can name your LLC anything you want, as long as it complies with your state’s LLC naming guidelines. Naming an LLC after yourself comes with the benefit of being able to easily use that name to sell any products or services you want in the future without brand confusion. It comes with the drawback that the name could be limiting if you want to grow the business beyond yourself or sell it in the future. In some cases, such as licensed professional service providers in some states or occupations, you must use your name.
How do I add my LLC to my business name?
You can include “LLC” in your legal business name in any way that makes the company’s structure clear, including “Limited,” “Ltd.,” “LLC,” “L.L.C.,” “Limited Liability Company,” “Limited Liability Co.” and more. You don’t have to include this information in your trademark, including the business name you include in your logo or business cards.
Does your LLC name have to match your business name?
Your LLC name can be different from your business trademark, the name you use to market your business. There’s no legal requirement that they match. But you may have to register a DBA for your trademark name if you want to use it for legal and financial purposes.
TL;DR: Ready to come up with the perfect name for your LLC?
We know this information is a lot to take in. Take a breath, and know that you can definitely get it all done and have the perfect LLC name for your business.
You get to choose your LLC’s name, so you can get as creative as you want… within the limits of some confusing legal rules and regulations. Every state has its own set of LLC naming rules, so check in with your state’s agency and consult a small business attorney to make sure your name is approved.
Stephen has dedicated his career as an attorney and author to writing useful, authoritative and recognized guides on taxes and business law for small businesses, entrepreneurs, independent contractors, and freelancers. He is the author of over 20 books and hundreds of articles and has been quoted in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and many other publications. Among his books are Deduct It! Lower Your Small Business Taxes, Working with Independent Contractors, and Working for Yourself: Law and Taxes for Independent Contractors, Freelancers & Consultants.