If you do not want to use your personal name to conduct business, you may file for a fictitious name for your company. This is required in some states, such as California and Texas. Your company can also create new fictitious names to distinguish between different divisions without having to establish a separate legal entity. A fictitious business name may already be registered if you filed articles of incorporation, a statement of limited partnership or another type of organizing document with a state agency. Some states automatically register the company name when processing these documents.
Registering a fictitious name, also called a "doing business as," or DBA name, prevents duplicate names from confusing customers and vendors if two companies are operating under the same name. A fictitious name provides a way to identify your company for advertising and gives the general public a way to look up the necessary contact information when filing a complaint or initiating a lawsuit. The company can also use its fictitious name to open bank accounts and accept payments from customers without disclosing the owner's personal information. If your business is a sole proprietorship or partnership, and you plan to do business under a name other than your own, you must have a fictitious name.
Search business names on the Secretary of State website for your state to make sure you are not choosing a name that is already in use. You should also search the trademark office database so you do not get sued for infringing on another company's trademark. Check the procedures for your area, because some states require you to file fictitious names through your county clerk's office, while others offer online registration directly from their website. You will be required to pay a small fee and provide information related to your company's ownership structure and business activities.
Depending on your state's rules, you may also be required to publish notification of your intent to do business under the new name. You must use a newspaper based in the area where your company conducts business. Publication must occur within 30 days after filing the fictitious name statement and must run for four consecutive weeks. You may also have to provide an affidavit to county clerk's office to prove you complied with publication requirements.
The rules for each state may differ, but most fictitious name filings last for five years. You must apply for renewal and pay the appropriate fee to keep your existing name. If your state requires a fictitious name to conduct business under an alias, you may be subject to fraud charges for continuing to do business under an assumed name after the expiration date.