How to Get a Hawaii Trade Name
A Hawaii DBA, also called a trade name, is any name your business operates under that is not its legal name. Any business—Hawaii sole proprietor, general partnership, LLC, corporation, or nonprofit—can use a DBA to establish a brand, advertise its services, and maintain its professional image. To register a trade name, you must file an Application for Registration of Trade Name with the Hawaii Business Registration Division, which costs $50. Here’s how the process works.
Your Hawaii DBA Guide:
What is a Hawaii DBA (Trade Name)?
A Hawaii DBA is an alternate name for your business—DBA stands for “doing business as.” With a DBA, you can operate under a name that isn’t your legal business name. Hawaii DBAs are referred to as trade names, but DBAs are also called assumed or fictitious names in other states.
What’s unique about DBA registration in Hawaii?
While Hawaii businesses aren’t required to register the trade names they use, registering your trade name can help you establish ownership of that name if another company attempts to claim it. In Hawaii, ownership of a trade name is granted through common law rights (Hawaii Revised Statutes § 482-53). In other words, a trade name belongs to whatever business adopts the name first and uses it continuously.
Unfortunately, owning a name without registering it doesn’t prevent other businesses from trying to adopt the name—especially if those businesses don’t even know that you’re already using it. Registering your trade name can help protect your claim to that name and avoid legal disputes by informing other businesses that you already own that name.
Why Register a Hawaii Trade Name?
Aside from protecting your name, there are multiple reasons to register your Hawaii DBA. Here are some of the most common.
You’re a sole proprietor
Sole proprietors frequently use DBAs for marketing purposes. Sole proprietorships are small businesses owned by one person that aren’t registered with the state. The legal business name of a sole proprietorship is the name of its owner. However, a sole proprietor can adopt a trade name (for example, Turtle Shell Tees) so they don’t have to operate under their own name (Lisa Hale). In this way, using a DBA can help a sole proprietor establish credibility and increase brand awareness.
To market your business
Businesses also commonly use trade names for marketing purposes, especially when expanding or re-branding. For example, say you registered an LLC under Turtle Shell Tees LLC, and you want to start selling tanks and crop tops in addition to tees. Instead of starting a whole new business, you could adopt the trade name Turtle Shell Tops.
Common ways to use a DBA to market your business and maintain your professional image 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
If you decide to do business under your domain name, you can also register that name as a DBA.
To open a business bank account
Different banks have different regulations for opening a business bank account with a DBA. While some require proof of trade name use, such as a business card or social media account, others require proof that you’ve registered your trade name with the state (this is typical of large banking institutions like Chase or Wells Fargo). You’ll need to contact your bank for specific requirements. Opening a business bank account as a sole proprietor can help keep your personal and business funds separate.
Tip: Registering a Hawaii 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 Get a DBA in Hawaii
Let’s go over the steps required to register your Hawaii DBA with the state. You’ll need to make sure your desired name is available and submit an Application to Register a Trade Name to the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Business Registration Division.
If you register your trade name, you’ll need to make sure that your desired name is available and complies with Hawaii business naming rules.
According to Hawaii state law, your trade name must:
- Not contain words or phrases that may confuse or mislead the public about the purpose or nature of your business, such as falsely suggesting that your business is a financial or government institution.
- Be unique among registered business and trade names currently in use in the state of Hawaii.
Additionally, using certain words, like “bank” or “Olympic,” may require authorization from a state or federal agency.
Ensuring that your name is unique can be tough. Even if two business names aren’t exactly the same, they may still be considered “substantially identical” under Hawaii law (Hawaii Administrative Rules, Section 16-36-15).
Small differences like adding articles (a, an, the) or other small words in English or Hawaiian (on, to, da, ka, la) or using a homonym do not make a name unique. For example, you won’t be able to register Wavy Days Surfing, LLC as a trade name if another business is already using Wavy Daze Surfing, LLC.
If you’re worried about whether or not your desired name qualifies, see Section 16-36-15 of the Hawaii Administrative rules for a complete list of trade name rules.
To see if your trade name is available, you can start by using the Hawaii Business Express Business Name Search.
However, because there’s no requirement to register trade names at the state level, you may want to check for non-registered trade names in additional places, including:
- The US Patent and Trademark Office
- Past and current telephone or other business directories for all the cities and counties in Hawaii (Oahu, Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai)
- The Hawaii Department of Taxation, which may be able to tell you if a general excise tax license has been issued under a certain trade name
- Any state or county agencies that might require registration of a business under a trade name, such as the Honolulu Liquor Commission
- Trade bureaus and associations, such as the Hawaii Restaurant Association
- Polk’s City Directories for the cities and counties of Hawaii (these directories can be accessed through the Hawaii State Archives Collection and some libraries)
Even if you don’t register your trade name, making sure that name isn’t already in use can help you avoid legal complications. For example, say you start using the name Aloha Tours without checking whether it’s available, and another business has been using Aloha Tours for the past 5 years. By virtue of use, the rights to that name belong to the original Aloha Tours, and they could sue you for also using that name.
In Hawaii, it is use, not registration, that grants you ownership of a trade name. So, once you’re sure your desired name is available, start using it—hang that new sign or launch a social media campaign under your new trade name.
To register your trade name, you’ll need to fill out an Application to Register a Trade Name. Here’s what you’ll need to include:
- Applicant name and address
- Whether your registration is new or a renewal
- The status of your business (for example: sole proprietor or LLC)
- The state or country where your business was formed (for registered business entities only)
- Trade name
- Whether you are the originator of your trade name or the assignee (if the name is being given to you by another business)
- The nature of the business for which your trade name is being used
- The signature of the applicant or someone authorized to act on behalf of your business
The information you provide on this form will become available to the public—and searchable—through the Hawaii Business Express.
You’ll file your completed application with the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Business Registration Division. The filing fee is $50. Applications can be mailed, delivered in person, or submitted online.
State of Hawaii
Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs
Business Registration Division
PO Box 40
Honolulu, HI 96810
335 Merchant Street, Suite 201
Honolulu, HI 96813
Hawaii Business Express
How to Renew a Trade Name in Hawaii
Hawaii DBA registration must be renewed every 5 years. To renew your registration, you’ll need to file a new Application for Registration of Trade Name at any time during the six months leading up to your expiration date.
The application contains a checkbox where you can indicate that you are filing a renewal, and you will need provide the certificate number from your original registration. Like registration, renewal costs $50.
Can I cancel my trade name registration in Hawaii?
Yes. If you choose, you can cancel your registration by submitting a written request to the director of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (HI Rev Stat § 482-28). Contact the department for specific instructions.
How to Claim a DBA Already Registered in Hawaii
There are two ways to try to claim a trade name that is already registered in Hawaii: getting the trade name re-assigned to you or petitioning for revocation of the original registration so that you can claim the name for yourself.
Because most other businesses won’t want to surrender the name to you for no reason, there are really only two circumstances in which you may be able to get the name:
- Prior Ownership. It’s possible that you have been using a specific trade name for a while and only recently decided to register it. When you performed your name availability search, you found that another business had already registered the name. However, with some research, you figured out that they haven’t been using the name as long as you have. Because your business has been using the name longer, that trade name actually belongs to you.
- Non-use. According to Hawaii law, if a trade name hasn’t been used within the past 365 days, it’s considered to be in a state of non-use and no longer belongs to the person who previously claimed it.
Get a Trade Name Re-Assigned to Your Business
The easiest course of action is to get the trade name re-assigned to your business. To do this, you’ll need to contact the other business, explain the situation (either prior ownership or non-use), and convince them to file an Assignment of Trade Name, Trademark, or Service Mark form with the Hawaii Business Registration Division, which costs $10.
Then, when you file your Application to Register a Trade Name, you’ll need to check the box indicating that you are the assignee rather than the originator of that name.
Of course, the re-assignment form also works if you just really want the name, and you are able to come to some type of agreement with the other business where they surrender the name to you. However, this is unlikely, as most businesses will not want to give up a trade name that already belongs to them.
Petitioning to Revoke a Trade Name Registration
If you can’t get the business that has registered your desired name to re-assign it, you can petition to have the registration revoked on the grounds of either prior ownership or non-use. This will take longer and could result in a legal battle over the name.
You’ll need to provide evidence to support your claim and draft a petition using the format provided by the Hawaii Business Registration Division’s Instructions on Filing a Petition for Revocation of Trade Name, Trademark, or Service Mark.
There is no cost to submit your petition to the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Business Registration Division.
Filing a Hawaii DBA vs. Starting a Business
What’s the difference between filing a DBA and starting a business? A DBA or trade name isn’t a business entity. It’s just a name that your business can use in place of its legal name. Filing a DBA doesn’t create a new business or change your business structure. So, if you own a sole proprietorship, you’re still a sole proprietor after getting a DBA—you’re just using a different name.
Because of this, you need to use your legal business name on government and legal documents–for example, when you file taxes or sign a contract. On contracts, you’ll actually need to provide both your legal and DBA names to ensure that your business is properly identified to whoever you’re signing the contract with.
There are two ways to start a business in Hawaii:
- Sell something. To form an unincorporated business like a sole proprietorship or general partnership, just sell something and you’re in business. Keep in mind, though, that even though you’re not required to register your business with the state, you may still need to obtain local or state business licenses to operate legally.
- Register with the state of Hawaii. To form a registered business entity like an LLC, corporation, or nonprofit corporation, you’ll need to file formation documents with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and pay a filing fee.
DBA vs. LLC in Hawaii
While a DBA is basically a nickname for a business, a Hawaii LLC is a business entity. An LLC is considered legally separate from its owners, providing them with liability protection if something goes wrong. As the owner of an LLC, your personal assets are not put at risk if your business is sued or defaults on a debt, and this applies whether you’re using a DBA or not.
A DBA does not provide a business with any additional protections. So, if you’re operating an unincorporated business like a sole proprietorship, adopting a DBA will not create any legal separation between you and your business. To get liability protection, you’ll need to form a registered business like an LLC.
Does a Hawaii DBA keep my personal information off the public record?
No, filing a DBA doesn’t keep your personal information off the public record. When you register your DBA, you’ll need to provide some business information so that consumers can find out who they’re doing business with. If you work from a home office, this information could include your home address.
One way to reduce the amount of personal information you list on these documents is to hire a Hawaii registered agent to form your business for you. At Northwest, we help increase your privacy by putting our information in place of yours wherever possible on state filings.
Protect Your Assets with a Hawaii LLCGet Started Today!
Hawaii DBA FAQs
How much does it cost to get a DBA in Hawaii?
The DBA filing fee is $50.
How long does it take to get a Hawaii DBA?
It should take around 3 to 5 business days for the Hawaii Business Registration Division to process your trade name application once it has been received. For an additional $20, you can get expedited processing, which is typically completed within 1 business day.
Is getting a DBA required in Hawaii?
No. DBA rules vary from state to state, and Hawaii doesn’t require businesses to register trade names in order to use them. All you need to do is start operating under your trade name—put your trade name on business cards, your website, advertisements, and the like.
Even though it’s not required, you may choose to register your trade name to prevent other businesses from registering that name with the Hawaii Business Registration Division. Additionally, it informs other businesses that you are using that name and can help prevent a legal dispute over name use.
Do I need a separate bank account for my DBA?
No. Because a DBA isn’t a separate legal entity like an LLC or corporation, you don’t need a separate bank account for each DBA you use. However, if it makes your bookkeeping easier to have a different bank account for business done under your trade name, by all means, open one.
Do I need a separate EIN for my DBA?
Not necessarily. Because a DBA isn’t a business but a name your business can operate under, you don’t need a separate EIN. Multi-member LLCs, corporations, and businesses with employees all need EINs, so if you already have one, you won’t need to get another when you register a DBA.
How long does trade name registration last in Hawaii?
Five years. To renew your registration, you’ll need to file a new Application for Registration of Trade Name.
How many DBAs can I have in Hawaii?
You can use and register as many Hawaii DBAs as you want. It will cost you $50 to register each separate name.
Can I sign contracts with my DBA?
For a contract to hold up in court, it must be signed with your legal business name. However, to properly identify your business, you should list both your legal and DBA names on any contract you sign.
Can I buy a domain name under my DBA?
It depends. Some domain registrars will you buy a domain name under your DBA, but others won’t. If want to buy a domain name under your DBA, you’ll need to find a registrar that allows it.
What is my business’s legal name?
The name that appears on your business’s government documents (state filings, tax filings, etc.) is your legal business name and depends on the type of business you own.
- Registered business entities like LLCs, corporations, and nonprofits: the name listed on its formation documents, including the company’s corporate identifier (“Company Name, LLC,” “Company Name, Inc.,” etc.)
- Sole proprietors: the owner’s first and last name
- General partnerships: all partners’ last names or a name established in a written partnership agreement