How to File A Fictitious Business Name in California

In California, all entrepreneurs doing business as sole proprietors must register their fictitious business name, also known as a DBA. Any entity, such as a corporation or LLC, may use a fictitious business name.

Author: Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Example on how to use a fictitious business name

Farrah is the owner of a small fashion boutique in Los Angeles called Farrah’s Closet, where she sells her own custom line of women’s clothing. Her store is moderately successful, but she feels as though it has stagnated creatively. One day, a customer asks Farrah if she has any handbags, to which she responds that she does not. This sparks an idea. Farrah begins to design her own handbags. The particular shape she chooses for her bags becomes a big hit with the local community. One client posts a picture of her bag on social media, and Farrah’s handbags become a viral sensation. As a result, Farrah gets the publicity and funds to expand her business. Due to the popularity of her bags, Farrah would like to open up a store devoted entirely to this part of her brand. However, she realizes that ‘Farrah’s Closet’ is not a suitable name for a store selling only handbags. Therefore, she decides to file for a ‘doing business as’ name, or DBA, which would allow her to operate her business under a different name. She registers the name ‘Ancienne,’ which will be the official name of her handbag brand. This way, customers can easily separate her bags and her clothing.

How to File a DBA in California

In California, a DBA name, or “doing business as,” is a fictitious business name that allows a company to conduct business under a different name than that under which it is registered.

It is important to remember that registering a DBA name in California does not mean one has liability protection. This means that a DBA cannot protect a business owner’s personal assets in any way. Only the formation of a business structure such as a limited liability company (LLC) will give a business owner liability protection.

Example: Gregory is the owner of a startup robotics company called Greg’s Bots. He would like to file for a DBA name that would change his business’ name to BioBot, which tells customers more about the company and feels more professional. A colleague tells him that by registering his company’s name with the state, he will receive automatic liability protection. Fascinated, Gregory consults a lawyer. It turns out that his colleague was not accurate. Just because Greg has registered his company’s business name with the state does not mean BioBot has any liability protection. Gregory would have to make his company a limited liability company to receive any liability protection.

A DBA is a useful method for branding and marketing. It can increase brand recognition or make a name more descriptive of the specific business. For larger corporations or companies, it can allow for individual branding without having to create separate businesses.

Example: Jenny is the owner of a tailoring business where she alters suits, prom dresses, and wedding gowns. However, her experience working with wedding dresses has made her want to branch in wedding dress design. She opens up a new salon where she designs and sews gowns for brides. Her original business name (Jenny’s Alterations) is no longer descriptive of her business, so she has reason to want a DBA related to wedding dresses.

In the event a company is sued, a DBA does not provide any protection of personal assets. Due to this fact, it is recommended that a DBA only be used by an official business type such as a corporation or LLC, or by a business wanting to add new brands. In general, it is recommended that an entrepreneur create an LLC rather than a sole proprietorship or partnership because an LLC offers liability protection. Doing so separates a business from an owner’s personal assets.

Happily, filing a DBA in California is a fairly easy process.

  1. Name Search

In California, a business’ fictitious DBA name should be unique and also meet the state’s naming requirements. Therefore, it is necessary for a business owner to search county and state records for the proposed name to ensure that it is not already taken or reserved.

Some of the naming rules in California include:

  • The business name should not include a business entity suffix (LLC, Inc., Corp., etc.) if the business is not actually an LLC, corporation, etc.
  • The business name should not use certain restricted words, such as Bank, Attorney, or University. If a business hires a licensed individual such as a doctor or a lawyer, then restricted words can be approved after filing specific paperwork.

The full list of California naming rules is available in California’s Code of Regulations.

It is also recommended that an entrepreneur checks a potential domain name (URL). Even if a business owner has no immediate plans to start a website, it is still a good idea to reserve a domain name for a DBA. This would prevent other individuals from snagging the URL first. It is possible to search for available URLs by using a service such as GoDaddy.

  1. Using a DBA in California

In California, DBA names are filed with the county in which the business primarily operates. This means that if a company primarily conducts business in Los Angeles, then the business owner must file the DBA with LA County. If, however, a company’s main place of business is located outside of California, then it should file with the Sacramento County Clerk.

It should be noted that nonprofit organizations do not need to file a Fictitious Business Name Statement.

The state of California is responsible for creating and monitoring DBA regulations. This means that counties in California have similar steps for acquiring a DBA.

In Los Angeles County, a business owner can file a DBA online on the LA County Clerk’s DBA name portal. Or, if preferred, a business owner can call (800) 201-8999 to receive forms by mail. Forms can also be picked up in person at the County Clerk’s office.

When a business owner applies for a DBA in person, statements do not have to be notarized. If a business owner applies by mail or third party, however, they must provide a Notarized Affidavit of Identity. This form can be picked up in person at the County Clerk’s office or is available to be mailed by calling (800) 201-8999.

There is an important catch to remember. Once a business owner registers his or her chosen DBA, it needs to be renewed every five years with the appropriate California county. Renewal forms are readily available on the county’s website. It costs $26 to renew a DBA name. It is possible that, depending on how the form is delivered, a notarization form might be required.

What if a business owner wants to change or alter his or her DBA? This is completely doable. To make changes to an already-registered DBA, a business owner may visit the Fictitious Business Name Amendment page on their county’s website. This form might need authorization depending on how it is filed.

It is also possible to withdraw a DBA. To get a Statement of Abandonment, a business owner should call their county clerk. The LA County number is (800) 201-8999. If a business owner’s county does not have this form available, then it can be created on one’s own using the rules listed on the California Legislative website.

  1. Registering a California DBA

The state of California requires that business owners publish a “fictitious business name statement” in a county newspaper within 30 days of registering the DBA. This statement must be published once a week over four straight weeks. For detailed publication requirements, one can visit the California Legislative website.

The publication steps and requirements may be summarized as follows:

  • The chosen newspaper must be in general circulation in the county where the DBA was registered. The county website will list suitable publications.
  • A business owner should contact the newspaper of choice and request to publish a “fictitious business name statement” in the paper once a week for a month’s duration.
  • If a business owner is refiling a DBA because the original expired, then the statement must be published again.
  • A business owner should file an affidavit within 30 days of finishing the publication step in order to prove publication.

The county clerk’s office can answer any questions regarding publication requirements. County contact information is provided on the California Department of Public Health’s website.

After California DBA Filing

After filing a DBA in California, there are a few more steps to getting a business up and running.

Create a Business Website

Nowadays, every business needs a website, however large or small the company. Thankfully, there are easy-to-use websites like GoDaddy and Wix that can help build an amazing website.

Organize Business Finances

An essential step of getting a business tarted is separating company finances from personal finances. To do this, a business owner should open a business bank account. Getting a business credit card is also a useful way of separating personal and business finances.

Protect the Business

Business insurance protects a company’s assets in the event of a lawsuit. It is similar to how an LLC can protect the personal assets of its owner. The base coverage for a business is general liability insurance.

Common Questions

How many DBAs is it possible to have?

A business owner can have as many DBAs as he or she wishes to create. That said, they then have the burden of keeping track of them. Each DBA has its own expenses and paperwork, so they would really all need to be necessary for the business. Let’s say a big apparel manufacturer decides to branch into different areas, like perfume or handbags or shoes. Filing DBAs for each of these brands would be genuinely helpful for the business. However, a small business might not want to diversify its brand so soon because of the administrative hassle of managing so many DBAs.

Does a DBA have an EIN or Tax ID?

A DBA does not need to have an EIN separate from the original business. This is because DBAs are not a business entity, like limited liability companies or corporations. The business entity that the DBA falls under would have an EIN. So, for example, let’s consider a company called Millie’s Designs, which has a DBA called Millie’s Theatre Costumes. Millie’s Theatre Costumes would not have an EIN because it is only an assumed name and not a business entity. Millie’s Designs, however, is the legal name of the business entity. Therefore, Millie’s Designs has an EIN.

Is a DBA a business entity?

A DBA is not a business entity. It is merely a separate fictitious name. This means it is not a sole proprietorship, nor can it become an LLC or a corporation. Importantly, it does not confer liability protection to an owner.

Can a DBA have Inc. or LLC in the name?

A DBA cannot have Inc. or LLC in its name unless the business entity is a corporation or limited liability company. Let’s consider a company called Andy’s Fine Footwear. Perhaps Andy wishes to create a DBA for his business called Andy’s Cowboy Boots Inc. However, Andy’s Fine Footwear is a sole proprietorship. This means he cannot put “Inc.” in his DBA unless he first changes his sole proprietorship to a corporation through the process of incorporation.

What is the difference between getting a DBA versus a legal name change?

Depending on the situation, it may be a better choice to file for a DBA than change a business’ legal name. Filing for a DBA is a simpler process than dealing with a legal name change. Getting a DBA is a good option for a business that wishes to rebrand or branch into another sector. For example, a baked goods company might want to branch into ice cream, in which case it will file for a DBA.

Is a DBA protected from being used in other states?

If a business owner wishes to protect his or her DBA from being used in another state, the best option would be to trademark the DBA on a national level. If another company tries to use the name, then the business owner could sue for trademark infringement.

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