How do I find out if a name is available in a given state?

This article applies to startups incorporated in Delaware registering to do business in other states.

Most startups will need to register to do business in states other than Delaware. This process is also known as foreign qualification. To get an idea about whether your startup’s name is available in a given state, you can use that state’s online business search tool. Getting information about name availability before registering to do business may save you time and extra work. If you try to register with a name that is already taken, your application might be rejected and you may be responsible for resubmission fees.

Other considerations besides name availability may impact your company’s ability to register with a given name. Each state has its own naming rules, and these often vary from state to state. For example, words that are restricted in New York may be allowed in Delaware. If you try to register to do business with a name that violates a state’s rules, your application might be delayed or rejected.

State Search Tools

Most states offer an online business search tool. Note that many of these search tools do not operate at all hours, and some states may only provide more detailed information for a fee. We’ve compiled some tips to help you use these tools effectively:

  1. If a state has a specific search tool for name availability, always use that over a search tool for looking up information about business entities.

  2. In addition to corporations, search the database for LLCs, partnerships, and other types of entities, if the search tool offers those options. Your name shouldn’t conflict with any existing entity, regardless of type.

  3. Be aware that a state’s online search tool, especially one that is not specific to name availability, may not always be accurate about whether a name is available.

  4. Your desired name may still be available if a search for the name you want returns:

    • Record not found,
    • a status of "Forfeited", "Dissolved", or "Surrendered",
    • or something similar.

We've compiled a list of these state search tools below:

Other Naming Rules

Rules for corporate names vary from state to state. Each state determines for itself which specific words and which types of words (for example, profane words) are restricted from use in entity names. If you try to foreign qualify with a name that violates one of these rules, your application may be delayed or rejected. Some states may allow the use of restricted words if you obtain approval from specific government departments or offices.

We’ve included some naming rules for California and New York below, since they are the states where startups most frequently register to do business. For other states, you can generally find information about naming rules on their websites.

Naming Rules in New York

If you want to foreign qualify in New York, you can see their list of restricted words here. The list indicates what entity types each restriction applies to and which department you should contact to obtain approval.

Naming Rules in California

If you want to foreign qualify in California, you can review their rules for corporate names here.

Note that in California, if your corporation’s name conflicts with another business, you can still foreign qualify under an assumed name in most cases.

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