Business Name Terminology

Business name is a catchall term referring to all of a business's names — its legal name, its corporate name, its fictitious business name, and the names of its products and services. When used in this context, "business name" should be recognized as a generic term since it does not differentiate between more specific types of business names.

If you are looking to expand or start a business, it is essential to be aware of the different business name terminology and the relevant registration requirements to ensure your business names comply with state and local laws.

Legal Names

The legal name of a business is the official name of the person or entity that owns a business. Entity structure can have an impact on naming options. For example, if you are the only owner of your business, its legal name is your full name. If your business is a general partnership and has a written partnership agreement that gives a name to the partnership, then that name is the business's legal name. Otherwise, the legal name of a general partnership consists of the last names of the owners. For limited partnerships (LP), limited liability companies (LLC), and corporations, the legal name of the business is the name registered with the state filing office.

Your business' legal name will be required on all government forms and applications and is particularly important to use on your application for a federal employer identification number. If you plan to use a name different from your business's legal name, you'll need to register the name you want to use with the appropriate regulatory agency. This type of name is known as a "Doing Business As" or DBA name 'Doing Business As' or DBA name.

DBA Names

A DBA name is a formalized, legal nickname for a business or company. Also known as a trade name, fictitious name, or assumed name, it allows you to conduct business under a name other than your legal business name. It is important to note that DBAs are not separate legal entities from their parent organization and do not serve as a business structure. DBAs also do not provide asset or liability protection to a business.

It is an assumed or fictitious business name that is sometimes used for branding purposes. Trade names are seen wherever the business puts itself out to the public, such as on business signs or social media. Both the business' legal name and DBA name must be provided for many transactions, such as opening a bank account or applying for a loan.

Most states require companies using an assumed name to register. There are no limits to the number of DBAs or assumed names you can use. However, the law in most states is that unless the DBA name is registered, which is done by making a filing in the state, a person can only do business under their registered name. Corporations and LLCs can only do business under the name on their formation document. The majority of states that require registration of assumed names also require renewal of assumed name registration.

Corporate Names

When a business incorporates, it must register a corporate name. Similarly, a limited liability company registers an LLC name, and a limited partnership registers an LP name. Before the name is registered, the chosen names must be approved by the Secretary of State or another state office that oversees business registration. If a corporation, LLC, or limited partnership operates under the registered name, then the corporate, LLC or limited partnership name is both the legal name and trade name.


A trademark or "mark" is any word, phrase, design, or symbol used to market a product, service, or business. Under certain circumstances, trademark owners have the power to prevent others from using their trademarks to market goods or services under federal and state law.

To make sure your proposed business name won't step on someone else's rights to an existing trademark, you'll have to do a trademark search. Also, when picking a business name, you should choose a name that will be likely to receive trademark protection and then take steps to protect your business name as a trademark.

Outsource Your DBA Management to Harbor Compliance

If you are looking to find solutions for filing different business names, Harbor Compliance can help. Specifically for assumed names, we offer Managed DBA services, from which you can expect:

  • Worry-Free Compliance. Forget navigating state websites, agonizing over government forms, and tracking renewal due dates. Leave the paperwork to us.
  • Responsive Service. Our one-day onboarding, precision file preparation, and expedited filing options set the bar for prompt, responsive service.
  • Total Solutions. In addition to DBA management, our specialists can manage entities, business licensing, tax registration, and more.

With Harbor Compliance, you're partnering with a team of compliance specialists who understand your goals and can manage the regulatory tasks to get you there. Contact us today to learn more.