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A ticker symbol, also known as a stock symbol, is a unique string of letters that identifies a particular stock on one of two electronic tapes that report market transactions.
The consolidated tape includes companies that trade on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the American Stock Exchange (AMEX), regional exchanges and other markets. A second tape includes companies that trade on the Nasdaq Stock Market.
Most corporations have a say in what their symbol will be, and many choose one that's clearly linked to their name, such as IBM or AMZN for Amazon.com.
Various letters may be added to a ticker symbol to indicate where the trade took place or that there was something atypical about the transaction. For example, IBM.Pr would indicate that the trade involved preferred stock.