Last updated January 16, 2021
California LLC Name Search
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In this lesson we will discuss searching your California LLC name. This is the first step to forming an LLC in California.
This is done by comparing your desired LLC name against existing businesses registered in California.
This is referred to as an LLC name being “distinguishable upon the records“.
The California business name database is maintained by the California Secretary of State.
Your California LLC name must comply with the requirements of the California Revised Uniform LLC Act, in addition to other rules.
If you know what you’re doing and you’re just looking for the name search link, here it is: California Secretary of State: Business Entities Search
However, we recommend reading this page first so you don’t make any mistakes when choosing your California LLC name.
California LLC Name Requirements & Restrictions
Before doing an LLC name search in California, there are some requirements and restrictions that you should know about. The majority of which come from:
Comma in California LLC Name
You can have a California LLC name with or without a comma. Both are acceptable by the Secretary of State.
For example: If your desired business name is “Orange Grove Brewery”, you can form your LLC with either of the following names:
- Orange Grove Brewery LLC
- Orange Grove Brewery, LLC
Or, instead of having “LLC” as your designator (the ending), there are other options in California.
California LLC Designator
As per Section 17701.08 (a), your California LLC must have one of the following designators (“endings”):
- Ltd. Liability Co.
- Limited Liability Co.
- Ltd. Liability Company
- Limited Liability Company
Tip: If you’re not sure what designator to use, “LLC” is the most common.
Words and abbreviations not allowed in your California LLC name
Your California LLC name cannot imply that it is a Corporation or any other type of business entity that is not an LLC.
You cannot use the following words or designators anywhere in your California LLC name:
- Inc. or Incorporated
- Corp. or Corporation
- LP or L.P.
- LLP or L.L.P.
You also cannot use the following words in your LLC name:
- Insurance Company
Furthermore, your California LLC name cannot include words that are prohibited by any other California statute or body of state law. Since that would equate to millions of words, there’s no way we can research all that and break it down. You’ll have to use common sense.
For example, don’t make your California LLC name sound like it’s a government agency. Don’t use words like Police, Fire Department, Federal, Government, United States of America, City, Town, County, or anything else that will mislead the public.
If you have any questions about your LLC name, you should contact the California Secretary of State at 916-653-3794.
Your California LLC name must be distinguishable
As per Section 21005.5 of the California Code of Regulations, your desired LLC name must be distinguishable (unique) upon the records of the California Secretary of State.
LLC name distinguishability has many components.
For example, when the LLC examiners (the people who review LLC documents) are looking at your LLC name, they will be comparing the “core” of your LLC name to existing businesses in California.
They will be ignoring:
- articles and conjunctions (the, and, &, a, an)
- certain special characters
- singular and plural words
- and certain abbreviations
We’ve created a really helpful page which shows you how to make sure your desired LLC name is available. We recommend checking that out and then coming back here to search your LLC name. Please see LLC University: LLC name distinguishability
How to search your California LLC name
- Go to the CA Secretary of State: Business Entities Search page.
- Select “LP/LLC Name” and run a few searches.
- Leave out the designator (ex: “LLC”) when doing searches.
- Leave out punctuation like commas, periods, apostrophes, etc.
- Don’t worry about uppercase or lowercase letters. The database ignores capitalization.
- Enter the first 2 to 3 words of your LLC name. This will help make sure that you see everything that is potentially similar. For example, if your desired LLC name is “Fitness Studios & More LLC“, just search “Fitness Studio“.
Want to watch a video tutorial instead?
The video below shows you how to search LLC names in California.
- The video starts with LLC name rules in California, then at the 10 minute mark, you can see LLC searches being completed.
- The state has since updated the design of their database, however, it’s still the same database and the way you search an LLC name is still the same.
The following information is provided for educational purposes only and in no way constitutes legal, tax or financial advice. For legal, tax or financial advice specific to your business needs, we encourage you to consult with a licensed attorney and/or CPA in your State. The following information is copyright protected. No part may be redistributed, copied, modified or adapted without prior written consent of the author. In this video we’re going to teach you how to research and choose your desired LLC name. The purpose of this video is to help you avoid infringing upon someone else’s name rights, to help you differentiate your business name from existing entities, and to make sure your desired LLC name is available for use. In order to make sure your desired LLC name is available for use, you will need to search it against the existing organized entities on the State’s online database. We will first walk you through some requirements and restrictions, and then later we will show you how to perform your search. Name Requirements. Your LLC name must end with the words “Limited Liability Company”, or the abbreviations “L.L.C.” or “LLC”. Using the abbreviation LLC is the most common. For example, Joe wants to start a company by the name “Joe’s Landscaping Services”. Since he is forming an LLC, he must file under the name “Joe’s Landscaping Services, LLC”. Again, using the abbreviation “LLC” or the full word “Limited Liability Company” is a requirement when forming an LLC. Name Restrictions. Your LLC name cannot imply that it is a corporation. You are not allowed to use the words “Corporation” or “Incorporated”, or the abbreviations “Corp.” or “Inc.” anywhere in your LLC name. Let’s look at our example again. Since Joe wants to form an LLC, he cannot call his company “Joe’s Landscaping Services Inc., LLC” or “Joe’s Landscaping Services Incorporated, LLC”. Your desired LLC name must also be “distinguishable”. This means it cannot be too similar to the names of existing organized entities that are found in the results during the search of the database. We will now illustrate several examples of distinguishability, and we will provide examples you may see while performing your search. Differences in designators, which are the identifiers at the end of a business name, do not create distinguishability. Examples of designators would be “Inc.” or “Corp.” (for Corporations) and “LLC” or “L.L.C.” (for Limited Liability Companies). There are other designators as well, but these are the most commonly used. For example, your desired LLC name is “Smith Investments, LLC” but during the search at the database, let’s say you found a business under the name “Smith Investments Inc.”. In this example, your desired LLC name would not be available for use. You would have to think of an alternative name that is unique and different. An example would be “Smith Financial Group, LLC”. Grammatical differences. The following do not create distinguishability: differences in variables and singular, plural and possessive forms of a word. For example, your desired LLC name is “Apple Farm, LLC”. Let’s just say during the search you found the business under the name “Apple Farms, LLC”, or let’s say you also found a business under “Apple’s Farm, LLC” with an apostrophe s. Both of these names, although slightly different, are too similar, and therefore your desired LLC name would not be available for use. An example of an alternative name would be “Bob’s Apple Orchard, LLC.” The following do not create distinguishability: differences in articles such as “A”, “An”, or “The”. For example, your desired LLC name is “Print Shop, LLC”. Let’s just say that during the search at the database you found a business called “The Print Shop, LLC”, or you found a business called “A Print Shop, LLC”. Again, although they seem different, these names are all the same in the eyes of the State, and therefore your desired LLC name would not be available for use. An alternative name would be “Printing Solutions, LLC”. The following also do not create distinguishability: the use of conjunctions such as “and”, “or”, and the ampersand symbol. Let’s say your desired LLC name is “Night & Day, LLC” with the ampersand symbol, but during your search you find a “Night and Day, LLC”, or you found a Night Day, LLC”. Again both of these examples are too similar, and your desired LLC name is not distinguishable and therefore not available for use. An example of an alternative name would be “Moon and Sunshine, LLC”. The following also do not create distinguishability: the use of certain punctuation such as hyphens, slashes, periods, commas, etcetera. Let’s say your desired LLC name is “Peter, Paul & Mary Studios, LLC” but during your search you found “Peter-Paul-Mary Studios, Incorporated”, or you found a “Peter, Paul, and Mary Studios Incorporated”. Again, both of these examples are too similar, and therefore your desired LLC name would not be available for use. An alternative example would be “PPM Productions, LLC”. Alphanumeric. Differences in numerical or written numbers does not create distinguishability. For example, let’s say your desired LLC name is “Three Teachers Consulting, LLC” with the number 3 spelled out, but during your search of the database, you found a company called “3 Teachers Consulting, LLC” with the number 3. Again, these are deceptively similar; the State does not look at these as any different, and therefore your desired LLC name would not be available for use. An alternative example would be “A Few Good Teachers Consulting, LLC”. Deceptively Similar”. Names that are too similar to existing organized entities also do not create distinguishability. For example, your desired LLC name is “Speedy Delivery Services, LLC”, but during your search let’s say you find a “Speed Delivery Services, LLC”, or you find a “Super Speedy Delivery Services, LLC”. Again these names are too similar, therefore your desired LLC name would not be available for use. An example of an alternative name would be “At Your Door Quick, LLC”. Takeaways. As you can see, just filing your paperwork with your desired LLC name is not as straightforward as you may have originally thought. The most important takeaways from showing you all these examples are as follows: it’s important to make sure your name is truly unique and not too similar to the names of existing organized entities. If your desired LLC name is unavailable for use, either by its exact match already being used, or by it being too similar to an existing name, we recommend using some creativity and coming up with a variation of your original LLC name, so that the name is now unique, and is “distinguishable” and stands apart from other businesses. Some additional tips to think of when creating your LLC name are: make your LLC name easy to spell. You want to make sure people can find you when they’re looking for you. Make your LLC name short. Shorter names are easier for people to remember. Make your LLC name have a positive connotation. Leave people with a good feeling when they hear about your business. You are now ready to search your desired LLC name against the State’s online database. We showed you a number of examples where the desired LLC names were not available for use, but don’t worry. In the next part of this video, we will provide plenty of examples of names that are available for use, so that you can best understand the database and the results that you see. Let’s head over to the state’s online database. The link below this video will take you there. Here we are at the state’s online database. Before we begin, there’s a few important things to discuss. The California Database is not as refined as some other state databases. That means you will need to do a few searches to make sure your name is available for use and that it is not too similar to existing businesses within the state. The database also splits its search by Corporations and LLCS, so you’ll need to be sure to search both when you check for your name. Don’t worry, we will show you how to do this in just a few minutes. Companies in the California Database have different statuses that you’ll see when searching your desired LLC name. Results for an existing company’s name could show: Active, Cancelled, Forfeited, or Suspended. You may see other statuses, but these are the most common. Next, we’ll give you a quick summary of what each status means. If you find a business name that has an Active status, you will not be able to use his name for your LLC. Cancelled names. These names have been cancelled by the state or by the LLC. Suspended. These names have been suspended by the state due to late or non-payment of annual tax requirements. And Forfeited. These names have been abandoned by the LLC. Although it sounds like Cancelled, Suspended and Forfeited names would be available for use, they are not. If your LLC name search shows one of these statuses, we recommend coming up with a different name or a unique variation of your desired LLC name. Let’s look at a few examples of available names. Let’s pretend that your desired LLC name was “Chocolate Cupcake Factory, LLC”. Let’s head over to the database and let’s just do a search for the words “chocolate cupcake”. What I’m first going to do is make sure that “Limited Liability Company/Limited Partnership” is checked off, and I’m going to enter “chocolate cupcake” in the search box. I’m now going to click “Search”, and on the next page you’ll see it says “Records Not Found”, so we’re about halfway complete. I’m going to go down and click on “Modify Search”, and we’ll need to do that search again and we’ll need to search corporation names. I’m going to click “Search”, and again “Records Not Found”. Because there were no existing records, my desired LLC name would be available for use. “Let’s look at another example. Let’s pretend the desired LLC name was “Think Big Properties, LLC”. Let’s head over to the database, and let’s just do a search for the words “think big”. I’m going to click “New Search” at the bottom, going to check off “Limited Liability Company” and I’m going to type “think big” and then click “Search”. So we can see we have a couple of results here. Let’s take a read-through here: “Think Big Academy”, “Think Big Brand Management Education,” “Thing Big Films”, “Think Big Financial LLC.” So nothing here is identical, or relatively similar to our name. That’s good, but let’s go ahead and hit “Modify Search” and let’s go and check under corporation names, and let’s take a look through here. And again, our desired LLC name is “Think Big Properties”, so “Dream Enterprises”, “Enterprise Films”, going to go down here and click “2” to go to the second page of the results. Perfect! Our name is not taken and there’s nothing that’s too similar. Because the name is unique from other existing entities, our desired LLC name is available for use. Let’s look at some examples of names that are not available for use. Let’s pretend your desired LLC name was “Brooks Auto Center, LLC”. Let’s head over to the database, and let’s search “Brooks Auto”. I’m going to go down here, hit “New Search”, click “Limited Liability Company”, enter “Brooks Auto”, and then hit “Search”. No records are found. Alright, let’s hit “Modify Search”, let’s go over to “Corporation” and let’s click “Search”. We have a couple results here, and you can see at the top we have one here with its status of “Active” and the name is “Brooks Auto Center, Inc.”. So this is an active corporation with an identical name. Because we found “Brooks Auto Center Inc.” is an existing corporation, our desired LLC name would not be available for use. Let’s look at another example. Let’s say our desired LLC name was “D.B. Shoe company, LLC”. Let’s head over to the database and let’s do a search for “DB shoe” without the periods. You don’t want any punctuation during your database searches. So I’m first going to search corporation name doesn’t matter if you search corporation name first or the LLC name first. Let’s enter “DB shoe” and click “Search”. Okay, no records found for corporations. Let’s go back and hit “Modify”. Let’s do a search for limited liability company. Let’s click “Search”, and we have one result here. Looks like we have an active company by the name “DB Shoe Company, LLC”. So because there is an existing company “DB Shoe Company, LLC”, our desired LLC name is not distinguishable. Although it has periods after the D and the B, punctuation, remember, does not make a name distinguishable. So therefore, our desired LLC name would not be available for use. Takeaways: you want to search your desired LLC name every way you can think of to make sure that it is truly unique and distinguishable. The good news is that you can search as many names and variations as you like and it will cost you nothing. This is an important step in forming your LLC, so take the time to ensure your name is unique and does not conflict with any existing businesses. If you have any questions about the database, or if you are unsure your name is available for use, you can call the State at the number below this video. Once you find a name that is unique and distinguishable from existing businesses, you can then proceed to the next step. This now concludes the Name Research Lesson.
How to determine the California LLC name search results:
• If the results show business names that are not too similar to yours (meaning your LLC name is distinguishable), then your California LLC name is most likely available for use.
• If you see a “no matching entities found” message, your California LLC name is most likely available for use. This usually means your name is super unique and/or specific; that’s why there’s no other business names that are showing up.
• If your desired California LLC name appears exactly as you want it, then you’ll need to come up with a different name. This one isn’t available.
• If the results show a business name that is deceptively similar to yours, then you’ll need to come up with a different California LLC name. This one isn’t available. Remember, the Secretary of State doesn’t accept names that mislead the public.
California LLC Name Statuses
You will see different statuses when searching your LLC name:
- Merged Out
- and more
While some of these statuses may sound like an existing business name is now available to use, we don’t recommend using any of these business names with these statuses. There are chances for confusion, and in some cases, the businesses that were using those names may still have certain legal rights to those names.
Next Step: Registered Agent
After you’ve found an available LLC name in California, you can then proceed to the next lesson: California LLC Registered Agent.
Questions? CA Secretary of State Contact Info
If you have any questions you can contact the LLC Department at the California Secretary of State. The phone number is 916-653-3794. Their hours are 8am to 5pm, Monday through Friday, Pacific Time.
California Secretary of State
916-653-3794 (LLC Department)
916-657-5448 (Business Programs)
Address: 1500 11th Street, Sacramento, CA 95814
California Secretary of State: Business Programs
California Secretary of State: Contact Information