How to Get an Alabama Trade Name
If you want to do business under a different name, you’ll need to get an Alabama DBA, also called a trade name. Alabama sole proprietorships, general partnerships, LLCs, and corporations can use a DBA to establish their brand identity or increase brand recognition with a more descriptive or professional name. To register an Alabama trade name, you must file an Application to Register or Renew Trademark, Service Mark, or Trade Name with the secretary of state and pay a $30 fee. Let’s get started.
Your Alabama DBA Guide:
What is an Alabama DBA (Trade Name)?
DBA stands for “doing business as,” and a DBA is any name a business operates under that is not its legal business name. In Alabama, DBAs are called trade names, and they’re commonly referred to as assumed or fictitious names in other states.
Any type of business can get a DBA, and they are especially popular with small business owners because they allow you to use a new name without starting a whole new business.
What’s unique about DBA registration in Alabama?
- Registering a DBA isn’t required in Alabama, but doing so can discourage other businesses from using the same name.
- You must already be using your DBA before you register it—and be able to provide examples of how you’re using it as part of your trade name application.
Why Register a DBA in Alabama?
Here are some of the most common reasons to register an Alabama DBA:
Look professional as a sole proprietor
A sole proprietorship is an informal business structure owned by one person. There’s no legal separation between a sole proprietor and their business, which means that the business’s legal name is the owner’s full name.
With a DBA, a sole proprietor can do business under a more descriptive or professional name, like “Tabula Rasa Detailing” instead of Joshua Williams.
Promote your brand
Using a DBA can allow you to operate under a more memorable name or even a more accurate one if your business expands or changes. For example, you might own Williams Detailing LLC but get a DBA to do business as “Williams Detailing and Car Sales.”
Operating under a DBA can help you craft and maintain your business’s brand and public image. Popular ways to use a DBA include:
- On websites and social media accounts
- On signs, business cards, and other marketing materials
- In commercials and advertisements
- On merchandise
- To open a business bank account (Note: some banks will require proof of DBA registration)
- To make and receive payments
Protect your brand
Registering an Alabama trade name informs other businesses that you are operating under a specific trade name and that the name is not available for use. It also strengthens your claim to the name if you get involved in a legal battle over the DBA.
Under Alabama state law, ownership of a trade name is granted through the common laws of adoption and usage (Al Code 8-12-1). This means that if you’re the first to start using a specific trade name and you’re still using it, that name belongs to you. However, simply using a trade name isn’t enough to prevent other businesses from taking the same name, especially if they aren’t aware that you’re using it.
Tip: Registering an Alabama trade name doesn’t guarantee that another business won’t use it. For stronger legal rights to your name, you can apply to trademark your DBA name at the federal level. Here’s how to apply for a trademark.
How to Register an Alabama Trade Name
Filing a DBA in Alabama involves several steps, including checking your name’s availability and submitting a trade name application to the secretary of state. Here’s what you need to do:
First, make sure the trade name is available to use. If another business in Alabama has registered your desired name, either as a legal business name or as a trade name, your application will be rejected. To find out if the name you want is available, check these databases:
You can also search the USPTO Trademark Database to see if the name has been trademarked at the federal level.
Note: Because trade names don’t need to be registered in Alabama, it’s a good idea to expand your search beyond state sources. For example, as a restaurant owner, you may check the Alabama Restaurant & Hospitality Association’s Business Directory. Using an online search engine or flipping through a phone book can also reveal whether or not another business is using your desired name in Alabama.
Your name must also meet Alabama’s legal requirements. Your Alabama trade name cannot include:
- The word “bank” or “trust,” without a letter from the State Banking Department, or the word “insurance,” without a letter from the Alabama Department of Insurance.
- Words that suggest your business is connected to a government agency, such as “Treasury,” “Police Department,” etc.
- Professional designations such as “engineer” or “lawyer,” unless you have a license in that profession.
- Any words that suggest your business is involved in an illegal activity.
Alabama is different from most states in that you can only register a trade name after you start using it. So go ahead and put the name on your business cards, social media accounts, and wherever else you create to promote your business.
Next, you’ll need to file the Application to Register or Renew a Trademark, Service Mark, or Trade Name in Alabama. While this application is used to register trade names, trademarks, and service marks, you can only use the application to register one of these at a time.
The main difference between a trade name and a trademark is that a trade name is used to identify the business itself, whereas a trademark is used to promote a particular product. A service mark is similar to a trademark, except that it’s used to promote a service rather than physical goods.
Here’s the information you’ll need to complete the application for a trade name:
- Business name and physical address
- State where the business was formed
- Business type
- Names and addresses of business partners (for partnerships only)
- Trade name to be registered
- Description of the goods or services the trade name will promote
- How the trade name will be used
- Classification number for the type of goods or services you sell
- Mark type (in this case, trade name)
- Disclaimer and written consent (only if you’re applying for a trade name already in use and have permission from the owner)
- Date the trade name was first used
- Date the trade name was first used in Alabama
- Email address
- 3 specimens that show your business using the trade name (for example, a business card, flyer, or label)
- Signature and contact information of someone authorized to act on behalf of your business
Note: As part of your application, you’ll need to select a classification for the type of goods or services you sell or the type of business you’re running. If your business operates in multiple classes, you’ll need to submit an application and fee for each classification.
You can submit your application by mail or online, and there is a $30 filing fee ($31.20 if paying by credit card).
Office of Secretary of State
11 South Union Street, Suite 224
Montgomery, Alabama 36130
Alabama Secretary of State
How to Renew a Trade Name in Alabama
Alabama DBAs must be renewed every five years using the Application to Register or Renew a Trademark, Service Mark or Trade Name in Alabama. Like registration, renewal costs $30 (or $31.20 online).
The one difference between submitting this application for trade name registration and renewal is that, for renewal, you’ll only need to include one specimen that shows your business using the trade name.
If you fail to renew, your trade name will no longer be registered with the state.
Filing a DBA vs. Starting a Business
A DBA is sometimes mistaken for a type of business, but it’s just an alternate name used by an existing business. For example, if you’re a sole proprietor, registering a DBA doesn’t change that—you’re still a sole proprietor, just operating under a different name.
Additionally, because a DBA isn’t a legal business entity, there are some activities you can’t do under your DBA. For example, you must file taxes and sign contracts using your business’s legal name.
If you want to start a business in Alabama, you’ll have to go through one of two different processes:
- Form your business by registering with the state. To create a business entity like an LLC, corporation, or nonprofit corporation, you’ll need to file formation documents with the state and pay a filing fee.
- Sell something. To start an unincorporated business like a sole proprietorship or general partnership, all you need to do is sell something—and this applies in any US state. While you’re not required to register with the state, you may still need to obtain local or state business licenses.
Alabama DBA vs. Alabama LLC
An Alabama LLC is a business entity that provides limited liability protection to its owners (called members). LLCs are legally separate from their members, so if the business is sued, only the business assets are at risk. This protects members’ personal assets.
LLCs can—and frequently do—get DBAs. But if you only have a DBA (for example, if you’re a sole proprietor), you’re at risk of losing your personal assets if your business gets sued or defaults on a debt. The best way to get liability protection is to form an LLC.
Does a DBA keep my personal information off the public record?
No. DBA registration is designed to help consumers find out who they are doing business with, so you must provide name and address information for your business on your Alabama DBA application. If you work from a home office, this information may include your home address.
One way to protect your personal information is to hire an Alabama registered agent to form an LLC. When you hire Northwest to form your LLC, we help maintain your privacy by using our address instead of yours wherever allowed on state documents.
Protect Your Assets with an Alabama LLCGet Started Today!
Alabama DBA FAQs
How much does it cost to get a DBA in Alabama?
It costs $30 to register a trade name in Alabama, plus a $1.20 payment processing fee if you register online.
How long does it take to get an Alabama DBA?
The Alabama Secretary of State typically takes between 4 and 6 weeks to process trade name applications.
Is registering a DBA required in Alabama?
No. In Alabama, you can use a trade name without registering it.
Do I need a separate bank account for my DBA?
Technically no, but it might be a good idea. Unlike with an LLC or corporation, you aren’t required to keep your business finances separate when you register a DBA. However, opening a bank account under your DBA might make bookkeeping easier.
Do I need a separate EIN for my DBA?
Unless you plan to hire employees, you don’t legally need an EIN for your DBA. However, even if it’s not required, getting an EIN can help you protect yourself from identity theft, since you can give your EIN to third parties instead of your social security number.
How long does trade name registration last in Alabama?
Trade name registration in Alabama lasts 5 years. The renewal fee is also $30.
How many trade names can I have in Alabama?
You can use and register as many Alabama DBAs as you would like. Keep in mind that it costs $30 to register each DBA.
Can I amend or cancel my Alabama trade name?
Yes. To cancel an Alabama trade name, you can submit a written request to the secretary of state.
Can I use a trade name already registered in Alabama?
While it’s very unlikely that another business would surrender its registered trade name to you or allow you to use the same name at the same time, it is possible.
You can obtain a written disclaimer and consent to use the name from the business that the name is registered to and attach it to your application (section 9). Or, if the other business agrees to transfer its trade to you, submit an Application to Assign Trademark, Service Mark, or Trade Name in Alabama.
Can I sign contracts with my DBA?
No. You must sign contracts with your business’s legal name. Because a DBA isn’t a legal business entity, any contracts you sign with only your DBA may not be legally binding. However, for transparency’s sake, you can include your DBA on your contract. For example, a sole proprietor using a DBA might sign a contract “Sarah Marshall, DBA Yellow Hammer Renovation Services.”
Can I buy a domain name under my DBA?
It depends. Some domain registrars permit businesses to purchase domain names under a DBA, but others do not.
What is my business’s legal name?
Your business’s legal name is the name you use on government documents (state filings, tax filings, etc.), and it varies based on your business type.
- Registered business entities like LLCs, corporations, and nonprofits: the legal name is the name listed on its formation documents, which includes the company’s corporate identifier (“Company Name, LLC,” “Company Name, Inc.,” etc.).
- Sole proprietors: the legal name is the owner’s first and last name.
- General partnerships: the legal name is must either contain all partners’ last names or be a name established in a written partnership agreement.