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What Should I Name My Business? Trade Names, DBAs, and More

Naming things is difficult—in fact, maybe one of the most difficult decisions you’ll make as you launch your business. In some cases, laws will have a slight impact on what your business name will be, for example, if it must or cannot include certain words. But for many, the sky’s the limit. Fortunately, there’s a simple way to take some of the pressure off of this decision-making process.

The name of your business may be less impactful than you think. Many companies do business as a name other than the one people think of, for example, Google’s business name is actually Alphabet Inc. The McDonald’s near me is actually “Raccoon Valley Partners,” a locally owned business. Likewise, my former employer is commonly referred to as Ubuntu, but that is a product they make, the actual business name is Canonical Ltd. You can call your business whatever you like and file a DBA, which stands for “Doing Business As,” or register a “trade name” and use that as your business’s name. In Iowa this costs under $10 and takes very little effort.

If you are a sole proprietorship, which is what you are unless you’re a partnership or you’ve filed documents with the Secretary of State, then your business name has to be your own name. My consulting business is a sole proprietorship, and without further work, I need to refer to my business as Matthew Nuzum. Technically, it’s against the law to call my business anything else.

If I have a partnership, which is when two people agree to do business together and don’t file paperwork choosing a different type of business entity, then the same rules apply. If my brother and I formed a business we’d go by our actual names. Like with the sole proprietorship, this is what Iowa law requires.

In the case of a sole proprietorship or partnership, if I want to go by another name, then I file a trade name registration with the county where I’m located. For me, I’m in Polk County, Iowa, so I’d visit the Polk County Registrar’s website, download the form, complete it, have it notarized, and then pay the county $7 to have it filed. (by the way, you don’t have to do this by yourself—you can contact me for help)

If I have an LLC, corporation, or other registered entity, then instead of using the county registrar I would use the Secretary of State’s website to file a “fictitious name,” also called a “DBA,” which can be done electronically for most businesses and costs $5. You can even file more than one.

When you open a bank account, sign up for insurance, or file for a licensure, you will use your actual business name. However, when you make a website, do marketing, or talk to customers, you’ll use your DBA or trade name.

I think it’s a good idea to use a DBA or trade name for most businesses. You refer to me as Iowa Business Advisor, but this is just a trade name filed with Polk County for my sole proprietorship. I do this because I know this name is temporary and will change when I am licensed to practice law. You can see my record, or any such record, by visiting the Polk County Recorder and searching for my trade name.

If you work out of your home you may not like there to be this much public information. The solution to this is to create a registered business entity, such as an LLC, and use a registered agent. Then, the only information you need to publish publicly is the address of your registered agent. (again, contact me for help, I can make this easy for you)

If your business is new then a lot can change. Initially, you may offer a certain product or service and later pivot in another direction. This is normal and good. For this reason, you may want to consider not naming your business after the product or service and instead use something less specific. It’s much easier to change a DBA than to change the business’s actual name.

If you need help with this or other business and legal questions, please contact me. Everything I’ve discussed in this article I’ve done before. These are very low-cost and easy services and I can help you make the right decisions and file the necessary documents.