Are you getting ready to start a business? Are you already in business but wondering about changing your name? There is frequently a lot of confusion about the names under which people and entities operate. What is a DBA, a trade name, and a true name? Do you need to register these names? How do you do that? What is a DBA form and where do I find it? We take a look at some of these questions below.

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What’s in a Name?

If you are an individual and want to run a business as a sole proprietorship, you can simply use your own name (e.g. John Smith), and you do not have to register that name. Let’s say, however, you want to remain a sole proprietorship and call your plumbing business “Wrenches to the Rescue.” You also want to receive checks made out to that name. For that, you’ll need to file for a trade name with your state or county (see below). Once you have your trade name you can say you are doing business as (DBA) “Wrenches to the Rescue.” You may now write “John Smith, DBA Wrenches to the Rescue” on your checks, signage, and marketing material. If you fill out the proper paperwork at the bank, showing them the approved trade name registration from the state, they will accept checks into your “John Smith” bank account even if they are made out to “Wrenches to the Rescue.”

What happens if you’re incorporated already? If that is the case, you can use your incorporated name (also referred to as a ‘true name’) in all your business dealings. It isn’t necessary to get a trade name or DBA. But what if you’re incorporated as “Smith Enterprises” and you want a name that more clearly states what your business does, such as “Yummy Burgers”? You can keep “Smith Enterprises,” the true name of the entity (after all, you’ve probably got dozens of documents already using that name) and then file for the trade name “Yummy Burgers.” Once you receive your trade name, you can “do business as” that name and file the proper paperwork at your bank in order to be able to receive checks in the DBA (trade name).

It’s important to note that laws vary from state to state on this subject. Typically, a true name is protected, but a trade name is not. So, if someone else decides to use “Yummy Burgers,” you may have no legal recourse to prevent them – it is simply a moniker you use as your public face, but it is not the true name of your entity and therefore may not be exclusively yours.

How to Register a Trade Name

Registering a trade name is fairly straightforward. Check with your state or county to see who regulates trade names and follow their instructions. They will have you fill out a doing business as form (DBA form). Note that you will be keeping your true name (your entity name as a Sole Proprietorship or an LLC or Corporation) and the taxpayer ID that is associated with the entity name; therefore, you do not need to notify the IRS. This is an issue that is governed at a state level.

After taking care of the DBA form, your next step will be to make any appropriate adjustments at the bank, and begin to change your marketing material according to your wishes. Note that if you are incorporated, you will want to maintain your corporate protection by referencing the corporation. What does that mean? It means that on your website and advertising material for “Yummy Burgers,” you may want to put an asterisk by the trade name with a footnote that says “a registered trade name of Smith Enterprises, LLC.” This puts the world on notice that your business has the protections of incorporation.


If you haven’t yet started your business, you may want to examine the protections offered by incorporating as an LLC or Corporation. This step doesn’t need to be complicated! You can use our ask-a-lawyer service to get legal advice in minutes or use our incorporation service for a streamlined process.

Get started Start Your Incorporation Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.

Get started Start Your Incorporation Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.