Win the Name Game

Barbara Weltman A rose may be a rose, but a business name can be a whole lot more than just a title. It is a way to communicate what the business is all about and let people know how to contact you.

Company name
The company’s legal name does not have to be the name under which it does business. For example, if you are a sole proprietor, the legal name of your business is your own name (say, John Smith). The name you operate under can be just about any fictitious name you select. If the business is Web design, the business name can, for example, be Creative Web Design. Corporations can also operate under a fictitious name, something they may want to do if they conduct disparate activities. For example, they can use the corporate name for selling products and create a fictitious name for the service branch of the business.

There are certain legal considerations involved in name selection:

  • Is the name available? Check to see whether the name is already in use before you start printing stationery and hanging a sign. Look in the local telephone directory and do a Web search.
  • File a “DBA” (doing business as) with your city, town or county to prevent someone else from using the name in your area.

  • Do you plan to trademark the name? Again, you must check on whether the trademark has already been taken before you start to use the name. For information on trademarks, go to
  • Do you want to use the same name for the URL? See below.
  • There are some legal restrictions on the name you can use. The name can’t be obscene, include the initials “U.S.” or use any other state-restricted words. It can’t be descriptively similar to another business’s name (for example, you can’t just add a .net to someone else’s name). Only corporations can use Corp., Inc. or Ltd. Corporate names must be cleared at the state level; check with your secretary of state.

    Business telephone number
    A catchy telephone number is easy to remember. When arranging for your business phone number, use letters instead of numbers, to make it memorable. This is especially important for companies with too-free numbers. For example, one New York mattress company’s number, 800-MATTRESS has become a marketing model. Even though there’s no need to dial the final “S” doesn’t prevent a prospective buyer from making the phone connection, and it helps the caller remember both the number itself and the company’s slogan, “Leave off the last “S” for savings.”

    URL address
    Like a catchy phone number, your Web site address should be easy to remember. It may be the same as your company name or descriptive of what your company does.

    To see if the name you want to use is available, go to

    Copyright © 2004 by, Inc.

    Category: Communicating
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