What is a Stock Symbol?

A stock symbol -- also known as a ticker symbol -- is a string of letters used to identify a stock, bond, mutual fund, ETF or other security traded on an exchange.

How Does a Stock Symbol Work?

When a company goes public or issues securities to the public, it selects an exchange on which those securities will trade and a stock symbol that will identify those securities. In some cases, companies try to make their symbols 'memorable' (such as TAP for beer company Molson Coors or DNA for biotechnology corporation Genentech).

The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) uses stock symbols with three letters or fewer (such as NYT for the New York Times Co., or T for AT&T). Symbols with four or more letters generally denote securities traded on the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. Symbols ending in X denote mutual funds.

There are also a series of special symbols that appear either as an additional letter in the symbol or, for NYSE stocks, after a dot to denote special types of securities. Tickers ending in Q, for example, denote issuers who are in bankruptcy; Y denotes that the security is an ADR.

Why Does a Stock Symbol Matter?

Stock symbols are key to facilitating the huge number of trades that occur every day around the world. Without them, brokers and investors would likely confuse issuers, securities and different securities from the same issuer. Stock symbols, via their additional-letter codes, also communicate important information to investors about the trading status of the security or the issuer.