DBA Laws and Requirements for Virginia Businesses

Man in food truck reaches serves two customers food
••• lisegagne / Getty Images

If you plan to conduct business in Virginia under any name other than your business's legal name, the law requires that you file an assumed or fictitious name certificate in each county or city where you intend to do business. That's the basic rule. Here's how to do it and why you should. 

What Is a DBA and Why Might You Need One?

When a business operates under a name other than its legally registered name, this is referred to as "doing business as" or "DBA." A DBA statement is sometimes also referred to as a fictitious business name, a trade name, or an assumed name. If you miss the important step of filing a certificate for the use of it, you may open up yourself and your business to liability issues and other legal problems. ​​

Why Would Someone Want to Use a Name Other Than Their Business Name?

Corporations typically use DBAs to show that a previous name or some other name was formerly used to create the business for legal purposes. The corporation may want to use another name for its public face. Filing a DBA is faster and cheaper than creating a brand new legal business entity simply because you want to change the name of your business.

In some cases, a single parent company or business might have more than one DBA. It can be a good thing for business owners who are expanding into new markets. For example, a web design company might want to start a new service offering video post-production. The owner doesn't want to go to all the expense and effort of changing the business's legal name from "ABC Web Design" to "ABC Video and Web Design." Filing a DBA provides the owner with a simple way of tweaking the name to reflect the new angle of business. 

If you run a sole proprietorship, the name of your business must have a real name in the legal title, but you can still operate under another name. For example, Sally Jones is a sole proprietor who owns a floral shop, but maybe she doesn't want her name on her sign or her website. She wants the public to know her business as "First Street Floral." She would, therefore, file a DBA statement so she could use that name as a sole proprietor, 

DBAs can also help protect consumers from business owners who may wish to hide their identities for shifty reasons. They create a record of the names the owners are operating under. 

DBAs for Corporations, LLCs, and LPs

If your business entity is a limited partnership, a limited liability company, or a corporation, Virginia law requires that you obtain a copy of each fictitious name certificate attested by the Clerk of the Circuit Court where the original was filed. The state charges a modest fee. You must then file it with the Clerk of the State Corporation Commission. 

Resources and Additional Information About DBAs in Virginia

Complete information about business registration requirements in Virginia can be found at the State Corporation Commission's website. The site allows you to search for other businesses that have similar names to the one you want to use so you don't spin your wheels, certifying a DBA that will only confuse potential customers and contribute to legal issues. DBA applications and instructions are available on the website as well. 

You should also contact your local chamber of commerce and city office to ensure that there are no additional local requirements, such as running an ad in a newspaper or other publication prior to using your DBA.