In forming a business, you will choose a name as a basic element of marketing strategy. The selection of a business name is important whether the business is a brick and mortar type or an internet business. Thought must be given to state and local requirements and making sure you do not infringe upon the rights of someone else’s business name. The legal name of the business may or may not be the same as the name by which it is known by its customers. Clearly, a business and its products and services may be known by many names. Because of the legal implications, it is important to be consistent and clear when selecting and using a business name. The following are some the typical considerations and factors in choosing a business name.

What is a business name? The business name is a term referring to all of a business' names — its legal name, its fictitious business name, and the names of its products and services. It is a general term for the business name.

What are some of the considerations in selecting a business name? You may or may not want your name as part of the business name. You will want to select a name that is unique in the area in which you conduct business, which may be state, national, or worldwide. You may want the name to be descriptive of the product or service or you may want a unique name which does not describe the product or service which may allow greater name protection (such as the name “Amazon,” which started as an internet bookseller). Obtaining an internet domain name, or URL (uniform resource locator), as close to the business name as possible is another important consideration. Another consideration is whether the business name should be registered with a federal or state agency to provide federal or state name protection.

What is the legal name of a business? The legal name is the name of the entity that owns a business as it will appear on documents registered with the state in which it operates. For example, a sole proprietorship's legal name is the individual owner's full name. The legal name of a general partnership may appear in the written partnership agreement, but if not named in the partnership agreement, then the partnership’s legal name is a combination of the last names of the owners. Corporations and limited liability companies register their legal names with the secretary of state or other state agency.

What is the “corporate” name of a business? A business conducted in certain forms of ownership, such as a corporation or limited liability company, registers its name at the time it files the required organizational paperwork with the secretary of state, in Massachusetts, or with a similar state agency if organized in another state. In addition, in Massachusetts, a business may reserve a name for a period of time prior to organizing the business. The business name must be approved by the secretary of state to ensure that it does not duplicate an existing business in that state. A corporation must use one of the following as part of its name: “Inc.,” “Incorporated,” “Corp.,” or “Corporation.” A limited liability company will typically use “LLC.” A professional corporation, used for certain professions such as doctors, lawyers, and accountants, use “P.C.”

What is a fictitious business name? A fictitious business name is the name under which it operates and is known by its customers but is different from its legal name. For example, if a business is known as “Lily’s Lollipops,” but its legal name is New England Lollipops, Inc., then “Lily’s Lollipops” is the fictitious or trade name of the business. A fictitious business name is sometimes referred to as a “doing business as” (d/b/a) name. Massachusetts, like many states, require registration of fictitious business names.

What is a trademark? A trademark or service mark is any word, phrase, design or symbol used to market a product or service. Under certain circumstances, trademark owners have the power under federal and state law to prevent others from using their trademarks to market goods or services.