Whilst the term ‘BTC’ has long been the standard abbreviation for Bitcoin, there is a growing call from the Bitcoin community and exchanges in particular to begin referring to it as ‘XBT’.

However, its semi-pseudonymous creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, still refers to it as ‘BTC’. What is a proper way to abbreviate Bitcoin?

Should it be BTC or XBT?

Although many may consider this to be a matter of triviality, for others, including myself, the abbreviation to which Bitcoin adheres is a topic of great interest.

At first glance, to someone unfamiliar with the age-old industry of currency and commodity trading, this notation might seem convoluted.

Why change something that is recognised by all and has widespread usage throughout the community?

ISO 4217 might be of help

However, there is method behind the madness.

The International Organization for Standardization is a non-governmental organisation dedicated to the creation of a global standard for notation of various aspects of modern life, including country codes, medical devices, language codes, all the way up to food safety management, risk management, and anti bribery management systems.

You will have undoubtedly seen their codes referenced time and time again on clothing labels, ingredients lists, websites, and currency exchanges, just to name a few use cases.

The ISO code we are interested in is ISO 4217 which refers to the abbreviations by which currencies and some other financial assets should be referred to.

Bitcoin - currency or commodity?

The system by which non-currency assets are denoted differs from that of currencies.

While US dollars take the ISO 4217 code of USD, Great British pounds take GBP, and Canadian dollars take CAD, the precious metals of gold, silver, platinum, and palladium take the codes of XAU, XAG, XPT, and XPD respectively, the ‘X’ preceding the element’s chemical symbol denoting a non-currency asset.

As such, although many consider Bitcoin to be both a currency and a commodity, they must also realise that, due to its decentralized nature, would most likely never be recognised as anything other than a commodity, and therefore its three-letter ISO 4217 code must be preceded by an ‘X’, hence XBT.

Ether abbreviation

Further issue also comes in the form of the fact that ‘BT’ is the recognised ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country code of the nation of Bhutan, so in actuality, ‘BTC’ would seem to refer to a non-existent Bhutanese colón.

Interestingly, Ether is also affected, as ‘ETH’, by which it is known, conflicts with the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 code of Ethiopia, ‘ET’, so would seem to refer to another non-existent currency, the Ethiopian hryvnia.

Perhaps, ‘XET’ should be proposed?