Legal-Ease: Can Ohio businesses have nicknames?

People have nicknames for their friends and family members when they do not wish to use formal legal names.

At the office, the late Lee Schroeder called all the staff by a nickname that Lee himself decided was fitting for each person. Some nicknames over the years have been a little more welcomed by the staff member they relate to, while others would get vetoed, and we would force Lee to come up with another nickname.

I think Lee’s love of nicknames came from the fact that every member of Lee’s immediate family had a nickname. I remember being totally confused when Lee would start telling stories, and I would try to follow and have to chime in, “Okay who is Gumpy?” “And who is Goofy?” “Now Pig, is that you?”

While the nicknames made it hard to follow the stories from time to time, it was convenient not having to use formal legal names when referencing people, which is similar when it comes to businesses in Ohio.

A business registered with the state of Ohio is allowed to register a name under the business name. Businesses might want to register a name under the business to use for advertising or marketing. Sometimes a business wants to have different areas of work and wants to be able to operate those areas of work under the one business.

In Ohio, businesses can register what is called a “trade name” or report a “fictitious name” to tie to their business. A trade name is a name used under a business to designate the business but is not the legal name of the business, thus it is essentially a “nickname” for the business. When a business files and gets approval of a trade name from the state, the business gets to assert a right to exclusive use of that trade name. Contrary to a trade name, a fictitious name does not allow a business to assert an exclusive right over the registered name.

Further, a trade name must be unique and distinguishable from all other registered business names filed with the state. A fictitious name, on the other hand, does not have to be distinguishable from all other registered businesses filed with the state.

The state does impose some limitations on the trade name that is being registered. For example, a trade name cannot indicate or imply that the business is incorporated unless the business truly is incorporated.

Additionally, when filing for a trade name, you must report the date the business first used the trade name. This date must be prior to the date of filing of the trade name, and examples of use include when the business first placed the name on products, advertised with the trade name or the date the business first started placing the trade name on business cards/letterhead.

People use nicknames when they do not want to use formal names, and the use of trade names or fictitious names for Ohio businesses is essentially a nickname for the business.

Nichole Y. Shafer is an Ohio-licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LTD in Putnam County. She limits her practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. She can be reached at [email protected] or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.