Nonprofit Law/Church legal name


We are in the state of PA. We are turning our bible study into a church.  We are not incorporating.  We have chosen a name and written bylaws.  I am in the process of completing IRS form SS-4 to obtain an identification number so we can open a checking account.  The application wants the legal name.  What makes a name a legal name?  Is the name we have given the church a legal name? If the name we have chosen is not a legal name, how do we get a legal name?

The legal name of an entity is determined under state law. I have in my profile that this free forum is only for general questions about IRS federal exemption issues of 501(c)(3) organizations. Your matter is controlled by state law and states may differ somewhat with how they would treat such issues. Even though this forum is not for such state law issues, I will direct you to the State of Pennsylvania page that has information about fictitious name registrations.

That page cites to 54 Pa.C.S. Section 301 and the following sections which are available at and, if you do not see any exemption from the registration requirement for churches, you may want to call the State Department of State to inquire whether they can give you any information about that issue of exemption.  However, it appears to me that the registration requirement would not apply to churches because registration is required only for "business" and the definition of "business" is given as "Any commercial or professional activity."

If there is no registration requirement then you would simply choose your name and put that into your articles of association or bylaws, which your church will need in order to qualify as a 501(c)(3) organization with the IRS.  starting on the bottom of page 24 under the heading "Organizational test". You must have the required clauses in the organizational document. Samples start on page 71.

Harvey Mechanic
Attorney at Law

P.S. This response is intended to be a general statement of law, should not be relied upon as legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship.

Nonprofit Law

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Harvey Mechanic


DO NOT GIVE ME INFORMATION THAT YOU WANT KEPT CONFIDENTIAL. I am an attorney and I volunteer time to answer general questions about U.S. Federal income tax issues of nonprofit 501(c)(3) public charities only. Those questions could be about establishing and maintaining legal requirements for such non-profit organizations in the United States, including Internal Revenue service filings and requirements. I will not be working on this free forum to answer questions about Nonprofit's possible unrelated or for-profit businesses or how to fill out forms. This forum is only for general questions about federal tax law, not as the law applies to your specific situation. If you do not make your question public then I will not be spending much of my donated time on answers that would not benefit the public. If you have other questions, please contact me at I will reply from my email. In any case, do not reveal confidential information to me until after I have contracted with you to provide personal legal services. My responses on this forum are intended to be general statements of law, should not be relied upon as legal advice, and do not create an attorney/client relationship. For me to consider your individual situation and how the law applies, I would need to gather extensive information about the situation. To search my previous answers you can do a Google search by "" without the quotes and then add your search terms before hitting enter.


I have been practicing law and especially the law of nonprofit organizations since 1990 when I was admitted to the New York Bar and I have maintained my status with the Bar since that time.


B.S. Columbia University in New York City, 1970

J.D. (Law Degree) Brooklyn Law School, 1990 -- Cum Laude.

©2017 All rights reserved.