What’s in a name? A company name is one of the first orders of business for a startup founding team (in part because formation documents must include a company name). Of course, you can form with a placeholder name and then change it at a later date.

Before you choose a name that you intend to use for the long term consider at least a few simple steps. Failing to do so could be costly, requiring new legal paperwork, other filings, and rebranding.

Check the availability of the desired name in both the state you will be incorporating in (this is usually Delaware – see Why Incorporate in Delaware to learn why) and any other state where you anticipate doing business (see Where Should You "Qualify to do Business" to learn what it takes to qualify to do business in a foreign state). To check if the name is available you can search the corporation databases that are typically available on each state’s secretary of state website (or ask your friendly Latham attorney or paralegal). If the name is available then reserve it while you can and move to the next step!

Consider what domain address (URL) you would like for your company website, and check if the domain name is available. If so then reserve it. But if the web address is already taken … don’t despair. Often web addresses are bought and sold for as little as a few hundred dollars (or as much as many thousands of dollars for very desirable addresses). If the domain name is cost prohibitive you may decide to look at different company names. If so, go back to step one, and remind yourself that it is better to find out early than after you have already incorporated and spent money on business cards and other early branding efforts.

Before you really invest in branding the company name you should, at a minimum, conduct an informal trademark search to determine any obvious conflicts with existing trademarks. If that clears then a deeper trademark search and analysis is in order to see whether your mark might hold up against others and/or whether others might object to your mark. While there are costs involved in these kinds of searches, these are much lower than rebranding a company after discovering infringement too late. See Trademarks for Emerging Companies for more on the trademark process.

Back to All Resources