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The basic Bitcoin ticker symbol comes in two flavors: BTC and XBT.
BTC is the informal ticker symbol Bitcoin was given shortly after its birth; XBT is its currency code, compliant with the rules of the International Organization for Standardization. The Bitcoin Foundation has applied to the ISO to formally approve XBT.
Further complicating matters was the Aug. 1, 2017 hard fork that created Bitcoin Cash. This new flavor of Bitcoin also has two ticker symbols. Yikes!
First, here's how we ended up with two Bitcoin ticker symbols for the "legacy" Bitcoin…
Why We Have Two Bitcoin Ticker Symbols
In Bitcoin's early years (prior to 2013), the BTC ticker symbol was commonly used as a shorthand for Bitcoin. It's a clear and logical abbreviation for Bitcoin.
Because of that and because it originated shortly after Bitcoin's launch in 2009, the BTC ticker remains in use.
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But when it came time to assign a currency code to Bitcoin, BTC didn't work. The problem is that the first two letters, "BT," happen to be the country code for Bhutan – an ISO no-no. (It wasn't a conflict with Bhutan's currency, the ngultrum, which uses the ticker symbol BTN.)
So in 2013, a new Bitcoin ticker symbol was created, XBT, for use specifically as a currency code. The "X" prefix was chosen because Bitcoin is a "supranational" currency, not belonging to any one nation. (Other examples of this include gold, which uses the symbol XAU, and silver, which uses XAG.)
BTC was too entrenched to fade away, though. Some sites use both symbols; others prefer one over the other.
Here are some tips on using these Bitcoin ticker symbols…
Where and How to Use BTC and XBT
If you want check the price of Bitcoin against any other currency in a Google search, for example, you use the BTC ticker.
So to get the latest Bitcoin price in dollars on Google, you'd type in "BTC USD" (you may have to add price to get the currency price box to pop up).
But the foreign exchange website XE.com uses only the XBT ticker symbol. And another currency conversion website, Oanda, uses both BTC and XBT.
Most Bitcoin exchanges, such as Gemini, Poloniex, and Bitfinex, stick with the traditional BTC symbol. But a few, like Kraken, adopted the XBT symbol.
Typically, XBT is also used on financial news and data sites such as Bloomberg or CNN Money.
But on other sites – including popular ones like Yahoo Finance and Google Finance – investors looking for a Bitcoin price quote won't get anywhere with either BTC or XBT.
For those sites, you need to use the ticker symbol NYXBT, formally known as the NYSE Bitcoin Index. It doesn't represent Bitcoin itself, as do BTC and XBT, but is a proprietary index created by the New York Stock Exchange in 2015.
The NYXBT is only updated once daily, however, at approximately 6 p.m. Eastern time. So if you're interested in tracking the minute-by-minute adventures of the Bitcoin markets, you'll be better served looking on the Bitcoin exchanges or using the Coindesk website.
And as if that weren't confusing enough, along comes Bitcoin Cash with two more ticker symbols…
The Bitcoin Cash Ticker Symbols
Bitcoin Cash is a variant of Bitcoin that allows larger blocks – eight megabytes rather than one megabyte – so that more transactions can fit in each block. This was one group's answer to the growing problem of having more transactions than the Bitcoin network could process.
When Bitcoin Cash "forked" from legacy Bitcoin, it became a separate cryptocurrency the required its own ticker symbol. This was especially critical on the Bitcoin exchanges, where the two versions trade against each other as a currency pair.
The logical Bitcoin Cash ticker symbol was BCC, which several exchanges adopted. Problem is, another cryptocurrency called BitConnect already uses the BCC ticker symbol.
So another Bitcoin Cash symbol sprung up: BCH. Some Bitcoin exchanges use the BCH ticker symbol, but others continue to use BCC. The lack of a standard is exasperating, but there's no authority to enforce one.
Unless something changes, we're stuck with multiple Bitcoin ticker symbols.
Apart from these, there are several other Bitcoin-related ticker symbols you should know about…