What is a Currency Symbol?

A currency symbol is a graphical representation substituted for the name of a currency. The symbol is usually, but not always, unique to a specific country or region. These shorthand currency identifiers, which the International Organization For Standardization (ISO) maintains, often appear instead of formal currency names in international and domestic markets.

Understanding the Currency Symbol

A currency symbol next to a number shows the number is a monetary amount. Many of the symbols for the most frequently written and traded currencies have symbols with a basis on the Roman alphabet. The use of slashes and crossbars help to differentiate letters from currency symbols.

Currencies which have their own symbol give the impression of being more stable and having a higher status. Some currencies, such as the U.S. dollar (USD) and the British pound sterling (GBP) have become instantly recognizable around the world by their currency symbol.

The GBP uses the designation £ for the pound, and the US uses the $ symbol to represent a dollar amount, although other countries also use $ to represent their currencies as well.

If the currency type is in question, the symbol may include a country prefix, such as Can$ for Canadian dollars, or US$ for US dollars.

The € symbol is used to represent the euro currency, ¥ represents the Japanese yen, and ƒ signifies a franc.

Key Takeaways

  • Major currencies often have a unique symbol attached to them. This helps graphically show that a number is representing a specific currency amount.
  • Some countries use the same currency symbol. The dollar symbol, $, is used by many countries. To avoid confusion, other letters may be included to help distinguish which country's currency is being represented, such as Can$ for Canadian dollar.

Artistic Design of Currency Symbols

In 2009, the Indian government aimed to raise the status of its currency, the rupee, by assigning it a currency symbol. The Indian Ministry of Finance announced it would accept idea submission from the public. The submitted symbols should represent the historical and cultural ethos of the country. The winning design, ₹, was introduced by Udaya Kumar Dharmalingam, a professor of design at Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati.

Many view the symbol for the euro, €, as a design and public-relations success. The logo has become recognizable around the world. However, people dispute who the actual designer of the symbol was. The European Commission won’t divulge the name of the author. Many assume Belgian graphic designer Alain Billiet is responsible, but Arthur Eisenmenger, a former chief graphic designer for the European Economic Community, claims the idea was his.

All the Dollar Symbols in the World

The dollar symbol, $, is perhaps the most recognizable in the world, and is used by more than twenty currencies around the globe, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Hong Kong. The word dollar can be traced back to Bohemia in the 16th century, when people used it to describe money in many places throughout Europe, including Spain.

Some other countries that use the dollar symbol, $, in some form include Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Fiji, Liberia, Namibia, Singapore, along with several others.

As indicated above, a letter or series of letters is often added before or after the dollar symbol to help specify what currency is being discussed. For example, Z$ is for Zimbabwe dollars, and $U is Uruguay dollars.

History of the British Pound Currency Symbol

The British Pound sterling, symbolized by £, was the currency which dominated the global economy before the US dollar. The symbol for the pound sterling resembles a capital "L" because of the Latin word libra, which means scales or balance. Libra now means a unit of weight equivalent to 12 ounces.

Monetary nomenclature is often related to weights and measurements, as well as precious metals like gold or silver. The original value of the pound sterling was against silver. King Henry II introduced a coin struck from 92.5% silver, which is a purity grade known today as sterling silver.

Examples of Currency Symbols and Currency Quotes

When looking up a currency quote, currency codes are typically used instead of symbols. This is because each currency has its own currency code, but not every currency has its own currency symbol. As discussed above, multiple countries use the $ symbol.

Currency prices are always quoted in pairs—the value of one currency relative to another—and they use currency codes.

For example, the exchange rate between the US dollar and the Canadian dollar is represented by USD/CAD. If the rate is 1.35, it costs $1.35 Canadian to buy US$1.

If looking for an exchange rate between the euro and the USD, that would be represented by the EUR/USD. If the rate is 1.15, that means it costs US$1.15 to buy €1.