Dalton was the first scientist to use the symbols for elements in a very specific sense. When he used a symbol for an element he also meant a definite quantity of that element, that is, one atom of that element. Berzilius suggested that the symbols of elements be made from one or two letters of the name of the element.
Symbols for some elements as proposed by Dalton:
In the beginning, the names of elements were derived from the name of the place where they were found for the first time. For example, the name copper was taken from Cyprus. Some names were taken from specific colours. For example, gold was taken from the English word meaning yellow. Now-a-days, IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) approves names of elements. Many of the symbols are the first one or two letters of the element’s name in English. The first letter of a symbol is always written as a capital letter (uppercase) and the second letter as a
small letter (lowercase).
For example :
(i) hydrogen, H
(ii) aluminium, Al and not AL
(iii) cobalt, Co and not CO.
Symbols of some elements are formed from the first letter of the name and a letter, appearing later in the name. Examples are:
(i) chlorine, Cl,
(ii) zinc, Zn etc.
Other symbols have been taken from the names of elements in Latin, German or Greek. For example, the symbol of iron is Fe from its Latin name ferrum, sodium is Na from natrium, potassium is K from kalium. Therefore, each element has a name and a unique chemical symbol.
Symbols for some elements :