I have a lists of variable names that include greek letters.

names = {"a", "b", "μ", "Σ"}

I would like to construct a lists of formal symbols from these such the above list will return

{\[FormalA], \[FormalB], \[FormalMu], \[FormalCapitalSigma]}

Mathematica graphics

I have tried mapping Symbol with no luck.

Symbol["$" <> #] & /@ names
{$a, $b, $μ, $Σ]}

How do I get a list of formal symbols from a list of variable names.


2 Answers 2


The ploddingly straightforward method:

SetAttributes[formalize, Listable];
formalize[s_String] /; StringLength[s] == 1 := 
          Module[{la = Alphabet[], ga = Alphabet["Greek"]},
                 Which[MemberQ[la, s], FromCharacterCode[ToCharacterCode[s] + 63391],
                       MemberQ[ToUpperCase[la], s], 
                       FromCharacterCode[ToCharacterCode[s] + 63449], 
                       MemberQ[ga, ToLowerCase[s]], 
                       FromCharacterCode[ToCharacterCode[s] + 62627]]]
  • $\begingroup$ Your character manipulations put me on a different tract with some version 10 functions that results. Thanks! (+1) $\endgroup$
    – Edmund
    Nov 1, 2017 at 15:30

Solution inspired by @JM's answer which resulted in finding CharacterName. With this the FullForm of the formal symbols can be obtained as strings and Symbol used to create the symbols.

formalSymbol[s_String] /; StringLength[s] == 1 :=

  (* English characters *)
  StringContainsQ[Alternatives @@ Alphabet[Language -> "English"], IgnoreCase -> True]@s,
  Symbol@StringJoin[{"\\", "[Formal", If[UpperCaseQ@s, "Capital", ""],ToUpperCase@s, "]"}],

  (* Greek characters *)
  StringContainsQ[Alternatives @@ Alphabet[Language -> "Greek"], IgnoreCase -> True]@s,
  Symbol@StringJoin[{"\\", "[Formal", CharacterName@s, "]"}],

  Message[Symbol::symname, s]


formalSymbol /@ {"a", "A", "σ", "Σ"}
{\[FormalA], \[FormalCapitalA], \[FormalSigma], \[FormalCapitalSigma]}

Mathematica graphics


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