In the simplest of cases, it may be your own name. So if your name is Rosemary Jones and you work as Rosemary Jones and you get paid as Rosemary Jones, even though you provide goods and/or services to a client in the same manner as a company would, then Rosemary Jones is your tradename.
But if you want a more descriptive name, or a more unique name for the future, or even a simpler name, you can go down to the county business office, and file a fictitious business name application, so then do business simply as Rosemary for example. This is commonly called a “dba” – Doing Business As. You are then a sole proprietor (or a partnership if you put two names on the filing). And many people do this everyday. All the small businesses in your county. And the only check is that the exact same name does not exist in that county. Doesn’t matter what names are used in the next county over. Doesn’t matter to the county what names are registered at the state level or registered as a trademark. They only care that they can trace and track the taxes you get paid by having a unique enough name. You must go through the additional step of running a fictitious business name announcement in some local paper. And then you are done. You can go get a tax resale number and a bank account. (Usually you have to get a city license too. For regulated industries like food and healthcare you will need licenses from the governing bodies too, but this does not affect your name).
As you grow bigger, and want to bring in more investors and operate like a professional corporation, then you will need to file incorporation papers with the a state (usually your own or Delaware). When you (or your lawyer) contacts the appropriate Secretary of State, they will check to see that no other company with the same name is incorporated in their state. But they won’t check with any other state, and they won’t check with all the counties in their state, and they won’t check trademarks, not even their own state trademarks! And all they care about is getting you a company number and name that is different enough. So they may make you add some descriptors for clarification. If there are a number of other companies with the name Rosemary, they will politely suggest you call yourself Rosemary Software Inc. or Rosemary Systems Corp. for example.
At that point, while your full legal business name (your tradename) is Rosemary Software Inc., but your dba of just Rosemary is still good in your county, and you can use both names as needed.Note that you get to choose between Inc., Corp., Incorporated and Corporations. Whatever your size, the choice is yours. But you must pick one of these unless you are a Limited Liability Corp. (aka a legal partnership – usually for professional services) in which case the initials LLC will be part of your full name. (It is slightly different for non-profits, that will register not as corporations but as foundations, associations or organizations).
And that is as far as you can go in the USA, short of going public and registering your name with the SEC. There is no federal corporate registry. As you open offices in other states, you will register in those states as a “foreign corporation”, but this is mostly a formality.
Note: Did you notice that none of the above process checked to see if you have accidentally infringed on someone else’s trademark? Nor did any of the above process confer trademark rights specifically on your name. But you have started to obtain some common law rights.
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Disclaimer: Brighter Naming is not licensed to provide legal advice. The information here is provided as an overview service only.