Registering Your Business Name
The process of registering a business name will differ from state to state and province to province, so check with your appropriate government office to find out how to go about it. Local chambers of commerce or small business resource centers can also help. Typically, you'll need to pay for a name search first to ensure that no one else has registered that name.
If you're a sole proprietorship and you're not using your own legal name, you need to register your “doing business as” (often abbreviated to “dba”) name. This is usually straightforward, with a quick form and an application fee, although some areas require you to advertise a notice of your business name in the newspaper.
If you're a legal partnership, you may need to file a partnership formation notice with your state or province. The formal name doesn't have to be the same as your trade name — just file a “dba” form with the appropriate authority.
If you decide to incorporate, you'll automatically register your name in your state when you file for incorporation with the secretary of state's office. In Canada, that will be done either provincially or nationally, depending on which jurisdiction you want to be incorporated under.
Even after you register a business name, it's possible that another business out of state or in a different industry will also register and use that same name. But your registration will give you some rights, especially in the face of a potential competitor using your business name or one that's similar.
Check with the registration office to find out how long the name will be valid and whether the registration needs to be renewed at any point. You don't want to build all that name recognition with your customers only to lose the name to someone else because you didn't realize that you had to renew your registration.