What I learned it is actual USE of a name that offers protection (along with trademark and business license stuff. But no one can just register a name, not use it, and hold onto the rights.
(at least in my state)
Yep. In the U.S., it's not registration of a trademark that necessarily gives you protection. Rather, it's the actual use of the mark in commerce that gives rise to trademark protection. Prior use of an unregistered mark may give rise to a claim against the registrant under state law, but only if the registrant is using the registered mark in the same state as that of the claimant (i.e., they are being used in the same market).