Not everyone wants or needs a catchy business name. Sometimes, your own personal name makes good business sense: Ben & Jerry’s, Bob Evans and Calvin Klein are just a few of the successful companies that operate under a personal name.
Limited liability companies can use personal names in a variety of ways: first names, last names, initials plus a last name, or a personal name that’s only part of the business name, such as “Joe’s Bar and Grill.” You can also form an LLC under a different name and use your personal name as your DBA or “doing business as” name.
Naming an LLC
To form an LLC, you must choose a name that is distinguishable from the names of other business entities in your state. This can pose a problem if you have a common name and want to use it as your LLC name. In most states, you can find out whether other businesses are already using your first or last name by searching business names online at the secretary of state’s website.
If another business is already using your name, you have two choices. In many states, you can use a name that’s already being used if the other user consents in writing. You can contact the business owner and ask if they will agree to let you use the same name.
Your other choice is to get creative and think of another way to incorporate your name in your LLC’s name. For example, suppose you are Sam Smith and you sell garden supplies. You discover that there’s already a Sam Smith LLC, Smith, Inc. and Sam’s Garden Supply LLC. You can still choose other LLC names such as Smith Garden Supply LLC or Sam’s Garden Goods LLC.
If you have chosen an available name but you’re not yet ready to form an LLC, most states allow you to reserve LLC company names for a limited period of time.
Forming an LLC
To form an LLC, you must file articles of organization with the state agency in charge of business filings. In most states, that’s the secretary of state. Every state has an online form that you can use to prepare the articles.
The articles include some basic information about your LLC, including its name and address, the purpose for which it was formed, and whether it is managed by its members or by managers.
You will also need to provide information about your LLC’s registered agent and registered office. The registered agent is a person or business entity that can accept lawsuits and other legal documents on behalf of your LLC, and the registered office is the location where the agent can be found during normal business hours. In most states, anyone who is at least 18 years old and has a physical address within the state can serve as agent.
You must submit the articles of organization, together with a filing fee, to your state business filing agency. You’ll receive a certificate confirming that your LLC officially exists.
In addition to articles of organization, every LLC should have an operating agreement that establishes rules for such things as how your LLC will be run, how new members will be admitted, and what happens if a member leaves. The operating agreement isn’t filed with the state, but is kept with your other business records at your main place of business.
Once your LLC has been formed, you’ll need to open an LLC bank account, and you may be required to obtain a federal tax identification number. You should always place the initials “LLC” after your business name—including placing it on your correspondence, contracts, forms, business cards, website, signs and marketing materials. Using the “LLC” designation lets everyone know that they’re doing business with a limited liability company and not just you personally.
An LLC that uses a personal name is no different than any other LLC. Like all LLCs, it must have a unique name, and you must file articles of organization to set one up. But because an LLC that uses your name might be confused with you personally, it’s especially important to always use the initials LLC after your company name.