Originally published Jan 17, 2007
Pandora is the character from Greek mythology who opened a jar (or box) and released evil and woe into the world. Doesn’t sound like good material for a name, does it? Isn’t calling a music service Pandora kind of like calling a women’s athletic shoe Incubus?
No, it’s not like that at all. When people think of Pandora now, they probably don’t think of the myth. They more likely think of the common expression open Pandora’s box, which is based on the myth but has softened in meaning. Now it doesn’t suggest evil and woe as much as setting into motion chaotic forces beyond one’s control.
The image of opening a container to release wildly unpredictable forces perfectly captures the great possibility, and slight danger, of baring your listening habits to the world to discover new music. Unfortunately, that’s not quite the way Pandora Internet Radio works. It’s last.fm that asks you to make your private listening stream public. Pandora simply asks you to tell them which artists and songs you like and then it will create a “radio station” including similar artists and songs. This is an example of the right name for the wrong company.
That’s not to say Pandora isn’t great. Its secret sauce is the way it determines similarity through human judgments about musical qualities.
Phonetically the name Pandora is quite lovely and musical. We English speakers are suckers for those classical-sounding names that end with -a. The di-DUM-da stress pattern sounds lilting, the initial p- gives the name a powerful start, and the rest rolls nicely off the tongue because of the easygoing voiced alveolar consonants between the vowels.
Pandora is a good name. It would be even better if the service were more like last.fm.