The success or failure of your small business can be closely linked with its name. If the name is so generic that no one remembers it, you could lose potential customers. If it's similar to another business's name, you may break trademark laws. Research and thought should go into the decision.
Use Common Sense
The name of your business shouldn't be so difficult to pronounce or spell that people can't easily recognize it or accurately type it into an Internet search engine. Nor should it be so common that anyone hearing it for the first time has no idea what sort of business you do.
"A1 Enterprises" might be easy to remember, but customers looking for a particular service will find your business more easily if you name it "A1 Architecture and Designs."
Do Your Research
You should also make sure that no other business is already using the name you've chosen, or even something very similar. If the other business has trademarked its name and you use it as well, you'll break the law and could be liable for monetary damages.
You might even break the law if a business hasn't officially trademarked the name but it's very well-known and the other business has been using it for a while. You can search the name you want to use on the Internet, in your local telephone directory, or in public databases.
Check Corporate Availability
If you incorporate your business or form a limited liability company (LLC), most state laws require that your business name be not the same as, or even similar to, others registered with the secretary of state or equivalent state office. Many states offer online databases to check name availability.
However, don't assume that you're not liable for trademark infringement just because your chosen name doesn't hit a match within the database. Many states only compare corporate names to corporate names and LLC names to other LLC names. Your LLC name might be identical to a corporate name or to a sole proprietorship or partnership.
Some Exceptions Exist
If your business is in New Jersey and you find a business in Florida that's already using the name you want, you're typically free to use it as well, provided the company in Florida doesn't do business nationally. Some exceptions also exist if your company is not in the same business as another company already using the name, like Apple computers and Apple Natural Grocers. Check with a lawyer.
Don't Forget to Register
When you've decided on a usable name for your business, protect it. You can register a trademark with either the federal government or with your state. Many states also require you to register your business' name if it's something other than your own name. These are DBAs, or "doing business as" designations.
A Business Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding selecting the right name for your business is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a business lawyer.