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Using Pandora name isn't exactly out of the box

As long as you're tall and blue and no American military types are trying to blast you out of your homeland, Pandora - a lush moon in the Alpha Centauri star system - is a pretty nice place in James Cameron's "Avatar." But Cameron's creation isn't the only Pandora in our culture right now.

Pandora also is a favorite destination for certain music listeners on the Internet, and many women have embraced the Danish jewelry line known as Pandora.

Various video games and consoles have appropriated the name, as have novelists Anne Rice (Pandora as a title-character vampire) and Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom (Pandora as a scary planet introduced in "The Jesus Incident"); musicians Tori Amos (who has a song called "Pandora's Aquarium"), the Cocteau Twins (who have a song "Pandora"), the Mexican female trio Pandora and the L.A. female rock band the Pandoras; and a downstate Illinois comic book company called, yes, Avatar Press, which launched its busty-warrior flagship character Pandora in 1996.

WHY ALL THESE PANDORAS? To Kathryn Bosher, a Northwestern University assistant classics professor, the rash of Pandoras coincides with a greater trend toward ancient Greek culture, as seen in the movies "300," "Troy" and the coming "Clash of the Titans" remake. "It seems people are using Greek myth to think about the modern world, as people have always done, but there seems to be an extra swing toward Greekness," Bosher says.

THE REAL PANDORA The name Pandora means "all gifted" or "all gifts," and that's a fine distinction. "All gifted" generally springs from the portrayal of Pandora as the world's first woman, created by several gods who each endowed her with specific gifts. The ancient Greek poet Hesiod provided the first known, and most famous, written accounts of Pandora, and in his telling she's beautifully evil, and the gods' gifts included such negative traits as a deceitful nature and a lying tongue. Pandora would eventually open the famously forbidden box - actually a jar or earthenware pot - and evil and sickness would escape to plague humankind.

THE JEWELRY Does Pandora jewelry come in a box that, when opened, causes horrible things to happen? "Definitely not, and that's not what we embody," says Jody Christian, Pandora jewelry's Maryland-based U.S. marketing director. "Really, it's all about the woman."

The jewelry line touts the "all gifted" definition in its promotional materials, but these gifts are all positive. "To us, Pandora is the embodiment of femininity and romance," Christian says.

"Her name is a timeless expression of the desires, hopes and dreams of all women, and this is the true inspiration behind our jewelry designs."

THE MUSIC SITE The feminine, romantic nature goddess is not what Tim Westergren had in mind when he founded the Internet music site Pandora in 2000.

His service is driven by users' expressing their musical preferences and then enjoying customized "stations" generated from their suggestions, so he appreciated the name's sense of "mystery and a little bit of attitude." "We kind of like the idea of a box, or . . . a jar, a container full of surprises, and you don't know what's in it," Westergren says.

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