Businesses must file a DBA in California to establish their fictitious business name. A DBA stands for “doing business as” and is used specifically for branding without indicating a business structure. For more information on business structure, visit our main informational page. Want to learn more about DBAs? Check out our DBA resource page or reach out to one of our PRIME advisors for a free consultation.
Step 1: Research California’s Fictitious Business Name Search Through the Desired County
California has a list of business name requirements. In order to move forward with your DBA, you must decide on a unique and fictitious business name. No other businesses can possess the exact same name.
When filing the DBA paperwork, your California business names should not possess:
- Restricted words such as university, bank, or attorney unless otherwise approved through additional paperwork
- Business entity suffixes including LLC or Incorporated (unless the business actually falls into one of those categories)
The California Code of Regulations has a list of all of the updated naming rules for the state. The regulations may seem long and complicated, but in reality the rules are very clear. The California Secretary of State simply will not approve any names that are “deceptively similar” to another existing business’s name. Slight changes in spelling, punctuation, or capitalization will not allow you to use a name that could confuse a consumer by making them think your business is the same as another existing California business.
Filing a DBA in California—An Example
For example, let’s say your name is Jennifer and you have a killer toffee recipe. Your friends and family have been encouraging you to set up shop and sell your sweet treats online, and you’re ready to take the plunge. Since you’re a small, one-woman shop, you don’t think it’s necessary to incorporate, but you do want some legal protection to separate your personal assets from your company’s, so you decide to set up an LLC.
You want to name your business “Jen’s Toffee,” but you find out that there is already another Jen selling toffee under that exact name. Under the California DBA regulations, you obviously can’t call your business Jen’s Toffee, but what about making a small change? Can you call your California business Jen’s Toffee Company? What about Jen’s Toffee #2? Jen’s Toffee Incorporated? Jen’s Toffee and Treats? Toffee by Jen? Let’s take a look at each name proposal and discuss the applicable rules.
Which Names Would Pass the California DBA Regulations?
- JEN’S TOFFEE: California DBA regulations would not permit this name for your new business, as changes in capitalization or punctuation do not change the fact that this name is deceptively similar to the existing business name.
- Jen’s Toffee Company: This DBA name would not be acceptable to the California Secretary of State because it is too similar. The rules explicitly state that adding the word “Company” or “Co” to an existing name is deceptively similar.
- Jen’s Toffee #2: Again, this name is considered deceptively similar, because it implies (erroneously) that your toffee business is a second location of the original Jen’s Toffee. This incorrectly leads consumers to believe that your business is associated with the previously existing Jen’s Toffee.
- Jen’s Toffee Incorporated: Like Jen’s Toffee Company, this name is not acceptable under the California DBA rules. In fact, this name has two problems—not only does it potentially deceive the consumer, but it also improperly uses the term “Incorporated.” Unless you have actually filed the paperwork to legally incorporate your business in California, you cannot use that term in your DBA name. (Remember at the beginning of the example, you decided NOT to incorporate your small candy business.)
- Jen’s Toffee and Treats: This name would most likely be approved when filing your California DBA paperwork. By adding the words “and Treats” to your name, you’ve effectively distinguished your business from the existing business.
- Toffee by Jen: This name would also be likely to be approved in the state of California, as the regulations clearly state that a “proposed name may be acceptable if the proposed name contains a variation in the sequencing or arrangement of the same words as the existing name.
If you need help with naming your business, you may want to check various domain platforms or social media sites to reserve specific handles. We can assist you through this process with a free consultation call.
Step 2: Register the DBA in California
You must register your California fictitious business name in the county of your business’s desired location.
If your business originated outside California, the request must be filed through the Sacramento County Clerk . Nonprofit organizations are not required to complete this process.
Step 3: Publish a Statement with your California DBA
Within the first 30 days of registering your Fictitious Business Name with the state, you must publish a statement in the desired location’s county newspaper. You must publish this statement once a week for four weeks.
The California Legislative website has a comprehensive list of requirements including:
- The newspaper must serve as one of the county’s general circulation publications
- The fictitious business name statement must be published once a week for four weeks
- You are required to publish another statement if if the original has expired following the same procedure
- An affidavit is required to prove publication within the first 30 days of filing
You filed your DBA in California! What Happens Now?
- Get your Name Out – Create your domain and social media handles to help spread the word about your business. GoDaddy and Wix are great resources. Make sure your handles and domains are as uniform as possible.
- Get Protection – Attain business insurance, specifically general liability insurance in case of the worst possible scenario.
- Organize Finances – Look into a business bank account or credit card. This will help to keep personal and business accounts organized and separated.
For additional aid in this process, schedule a free consultation with one of our PRIME advisors.
California DBA FAQ
Are DBA’s required to get an EIN or tax identifier?
Since these are not a business entity, this step is not required. The business entity which contains the DBA would be required to have one.
Can DBA’s have business entity suffixes in the name?
The right to have business entity suffixes in the DBA’s name are reserved solely for those who fall directly into each of those categories, respectively.
Under which county do I file my DBA?
The DBA should be filed under the county in which you desire your business to be located. If the business originates outside California, it must be filed under the Sacramento County Clerk.
- California Legislative Information – Fictitious Business Name
- Los Angeles County – Filing a Fictitious Business Name
- Los Angeles County – Fictitious Business Name General Info
- Sacramento County – Fictitious Business Name Resources