Element Names and Symbols
Home Table of Contents Preliminary Information Introduction to the Lesson Classification of Materials Dalton's Atomic Theory Element Names and Symbols Combinations of Atoms Atomic Weights Moles Associated Calculations Wrap-Up


Symbols for Elements
Chemical Names for Compounds

Element Names and Symbols

Symbols for Atoms

Dalton used symbols to represent his atoms. However, he did not use the same symbols that we use. He used circles with markings to represent the various individual atoms. He used circles with dots, lines, crosses and shading in them. When he ran out of marks he put letters in the circles to represent the elements. Each different symbol represented a different kind of atom--the atom of a different element.

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About ten years later, in Sweden, Berzelius suggested just using letters to represent atoms of each element and also to represent the elements in general. These are the symbols that we use today.  Because we use the symbols in two different ways, you need to pay attention to the context in which a symbol for an element is used. Realize that sometimes it just represents the element and sometimes it represents an atom of the element.

Names of Elements

Some elements have been known since ancient times, even though they may not have been known to be elements at that time. They were known prior to and during the time that our various cultures and languages developed. Consequently some of these elements have names that are different in each culture or each language. Gold is a good example. Probably every culture has a name for the element gold, just as every culture would have its own name for the compound water and its own name for the sun. So that we might have just one symbol for each element, Berzelius based the symbol on the Latin name for each element.

In the other pages of this section you will be introduced to the

symbols used for the elements in a way that will hopefully make them a little easier for you to remember (or at least understand why some of them are so different than the names we use for those elements)

and also to the

chemical names for compounds so that you will be able to use them to determine what elements are contained in them.

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