How to Register a DBA in Tennessee (Step-by-Step Guide)

Last updated: March 12th, 2024
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Starting a new business in Tennessee can be a complicated process. There are many legal terms to familiarise yourself with and endless forms to stay on top of. This can be stressful for small business owners who may not have the staffing to have a specific admin team. One of the most important early decisions to make is naming your business. A good name can be an early marketing tool and capture an audience’s imagination. This article will provide a step-by-step guide to registering your DBA in Tennessee, including examples and how the process differs depending on your business structure.

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What is a DBA?

The abbreviation DBA means “doing business as” and refers to a company or individual that operates under a made-up business name. They are also referred to as “fictitious business names,” “assumed names,” and “trade names.” By opting for a DBA, a company can choose a more appealing trade name than its official title, which can help make its brand more marketable.

For example, a sole proprietor who sells handmade instruments, like Steve Clarke, may register a DBA name like “Handmade Guitars by Steve” instead of his own name.

Registering a DBA is a common practice for sole proprietors, general partnerships, and corporations that want to use a fictitious name that better describes their products or services or simply want to utilize an alternative name. 

Registering a new DBA varies by state but generally involves: 

  1. Selecting a unique business name
  2. Verifying its availability
  3. Submitting the appropriate paperwork to the government entity, such as the Secretary of State or the county clerk’s office
  4. Paying a DBA filing fee.

Tennessee DBA name registration

In Tennessee, where and how you file your DBA depends on the business entity.

Sole proprietors and general partnerships must conduct business under their legal names.

They must file for a county business license with their county clerk’s office if they want to use a different name. We will walk you through this process. 

If you are a formal incorporation such as an LLC or Corporation, you file with the Secretary of State at the state level. 

Choose your name

The first step to registering a DBA in Tennessee is choosing a name for your business. The name you choose for your DBA should comply with Tennessee’s naming requirements. A complete list of naming requirements can be found here.

The naming requirements state that:

  • The business’s name must not be unique or too similar to any existing business in the state.
  • The name must not contain any words considered offensive or indicate illegal activity.
  • The name must not contain any words that suggest it is affiliated with a government agency.
  • The name must not include certain restricted words (bank, attorney, university, etc.) without obtaining prior approval from the relevant regulatory agency.

Check name availability

Once you have decided on your business name and ensured it complies with the state naming rules, you must confirm your proposed DBA name is unique.

To search for names already in use in the state, use the business name availability tool on the Tennesee Secretary of State website.

Once you have ensured your business name is unique, we suggest you buy the web address matching your new name. This will prevent others from taking it and can also help promote your business. It’s a good idea to have the web address, even if you’re not yet ready to create a website for your business.

Register your name

Sole proprietorships and general partnerships

As a sole proprietor or partnership, you must file for a county business license with the appropriate county clerk’s office if you intend to use a name different from your legal name.

We will provide easy-to-follow instructions to obtain a Knox County DBA. However, you should contact the county clerk for guidance if you need to file in a different county.

You can find your county clerk from this list of counties.

In Knox County
  • Download and fill in this form or complete it online in Knox County.
  • If your business grosses over $10,000 annually, you must file for a normal business license; if it grosses under $10,000, you must file for a minimal activity license.
  • You can turn in your business license application at any of the county’s offices. The main office address is:

Old Knox County Courthouse
300 W. Main Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37902

Formally incorporated businesses

Incorporated businesses such as LLCs, Corporations, and LLPs file their DBA at the state level with the Tennessee Secretary of State. Business types that are considered incorporated:

  • For-profit Corporations, Non-Profit Corporations
  • Professional Corporations, Professional Associations
  • Limited Partnerships, Limited Liability Partnerships
  • Limited Liability Companies
  • Any Foreign Filing Entities (formed outside of Tennessee)
  1. You can file either online or by filling in the appropriate form. Remember that the forms are different for LLCsCorporations, and LLPs.
  2. The form will ask for the following:
    • The actual name of the business
    • The proposed DBA name
    • The county the business operates in
    • Name and signature of the applicant
  3. If you are mailing in your application or returning it in person, the address is:

Corporate Filings
312 Rosa L. Parks Ave.
6th Floor, William R. Snodgrass Tower
Nashville, TN 37243

Pay your filing fees

Sole proprietorships and general partnerships

  • The county sets the cost of a county business license application.
  • Knox County charges a fee of $15.

Formally incorporated businesses

  • The filing fee is $20.
  • The fee is the same across all types of businesses.

Renew, amend, or withdraw your DBA

Sole proprietorships and general partnerships

  • The management of your business license is managed by the county in which you applied.
Knox County
  • Standard business licenses are automatically renewed when you file your tax return. You must complete a renewal form if you filed for a minimal activity license.
  • You must file a new registration to make any changes to your business license.
  • You can cancel your business license by submitting a final tax return to the Tennessee Department of Revenue.

Formally incorporated businesses

  • Your name must be renewed every five years. The filing fee is $20. You can renew either online or by submitting a renewal form:
  • You can change your assumed name by filling out a name change application form. The filing fee is $20.
  • You can cancel your name by submitting the appropriate cancellation form and paying the $20 filing fee.

Obtain an EIN

When a business entity wants to pay taxes, they receive a nine-digit number called an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.

  • Even if a business uses a different name than its legal one, it’s still the same entity in the eyes of the law.
  • If a sole proprietor runs a business alone and doesn’t have employees, they can use their Social Security number as their tax ID.
  • If they hire employees or have a separate bank account for the business, they must have an EIN.
  • You can apply for an EIN online or by mail.

Open a business bank account

After acquiring your EIN, you can open a business bank account using your registered business name.

A separate account helps you separate your personal assets from your business finances. This makes managing transactions easier and accepting checks and credit card payments.

Useful links

Advantages and disadvantages of a DBA

There are many advantages to registering a DBA: 

  • Customizable name: A DBA can be altered more quickly than a legal business name, allowing business owners to change their name according to their evolving products and services or market conditions. It also allows multiple names to target different products and markets, increasing the scope and customer base.
  • Clear financial separation: Filing for a DBA allows business owners to establish a business bank account under the company name instead of a personal account. This separation allows for more transparent financial records, prevents confusion, and protects personal assets. It also makes it easier to receive cheques and card payments.
  • Brand recognition: A well-crafted DBA name is often more descriptive and memorable than a legal name. It helps in brand recognition, business promotion, and marketing and advertising products or services more accessible.
  • Cost-effective: DBA registration is usually less expensive than other business structures, such as limited liability companies (LLCs). It is a more affordable option for small business owners and entrepreneurs that want to create a unique identity without spending too much money.

However, there are a few downsides to registering a DBA:

  • Personal liability: DBAs do not provide legal protection or personal liability protection, meaning that the business owner is personally responsible for all debts, obligations, and lawsuits related to the business. It exposes the owner to the risk of personal bankruptcy, as the owner is solely responsible.
  • Legal and administrative burden: Using a DBA name requires registering the name with the relevant government agency, which can be time-consuming. The legal and administrative obligation increases with multiple DBAs, requiring the owner to maintain and update legal documents periodically.

Who needs a DBA?

  • Sole proprietors: Individuals who run a business independently without creating a separate legal entity can benefit from a DBA. It allows them to use a different name for marketing their products or services and adapt to market changes more quickly.
  • Partnerships: Joint ventures between two or more individuals who want to operate under a different name than the partners’ names can use a DBA to represent their partnership and increase brand recognition.
  • Corporations: A business specializing in web design and development may file a DBA such as “Web Design Solutions” to differentiate its services from other web design businesses. Additionally, suppose a company has a subsidiary that offers recruitment services under the name “Casting Solutions LLC,” but they also want to provide printing services. In that case, it can form a DBA named “Printing Services” to distinguish the two activities.
  • Limited liability companies (LLCs): LLCs can file a DBA to conduct business under a different name or brand while enjoying the benefits of a flexible business structure that limits personal liability and protects assets

Why or why wouldn’t you need a DBA?

You would need a DBA if:

  • You intend to operate your business under a name other than your or your company’s legal name.
  • You want a trading name that is easier to market, remember, or describe your products or services.
  • You are a sole proprietor, partnership, corporation, or LLC and want to conduct business under multiple names.
  • You want to test a new product or market without changing your legal name.

You may not need a DBA if:

  • You are operating your business under your personal name or your company’s name.


How long does it take to process my DBA?

If you file with the Secretary of State, it can take between 3-5 business days. If you are filing a business license with your county, you must contact them to determine how long processing takes.

Does my DBA give me a business license?

Yes. In Tennessee, if you are a sole proprietor or general partnership, you do not file for a DBA but a business license where you can choose your own name.

Can a sole proprietor or general partnership file for a DBA?

You do not file for DBA in Tennesee. You file for a business license where you choose a name. Effectively applying for a business license fills the same role as filing a DBA.

Do I need to advertise my DBA?

Many states require you to advertise your DBA in a local newspaper. This is not a requirement in Tennessee. There are many benefits to promoting your new name and business, but it is not legally mandated.

If my business is formally incorporated, do I need to inform my county about my new DBA name?

No, the Secretary of State files all DBAs. They will refer your new name to your county.

Find out how to register a DBA in your state

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