YOUR NAME ON RICE
In 1995, my daughter Althaea, a friend, and i were wandering around the Telegraph
Avenue Street Fair in Berkeley, California, when Althaea spotted a strange
jewelry booth. All the items for sale were little hand-blown glass
pendants and the crudely lettered sign on the booth said
Knowing my interest in folkoric custom and in oddball English usage, she
pulled me over to look at the items. At first all i saw was a shiny mass
of colourful glass pendants in an assortment of designs hung from a wire,
but just as the proprietor started to go into his spiel, i realized
Althaea had struck a rich vein of *stuff*.
"Your name on rice," said the artisan, a handsome, light-brown haired man
with a strong foreign accent, in his late 30s. I couldn't place the
"Why would we want our names on rice?" asked Althaea.
"Many people like," he said. "Many people like their name on rice. I make
these myself. Any design, any colour, your name on rice."
And sure enough, as i looked closer, i saw that the multi-coloured glass
pendants were hollow, filled with variously coloured oils, and that within
each one there was a floating grain of rice, bearing tiny letters:
Dorothy, Janet, Sheila -- even the word Love. Some of the pendants also
contained little sprigs of dried leaves and flowers. The oil acted as a
magnifier, and the miniscule letters were easily legible.
Althaea and i were entranced. We looked into every pendant, and each one
bore a name or a word. We could tell that there was a meaning behind this
array of items, but the man would not volunteer it. I looked up at him and
asked, "Does this -- this name on rice -- come from your home country?"
"Yes," he said. "Many people like name on rice. Is an old custom, put your
name on rice."
"And -- i hope you don't mind my asking -- but where are you from?"
"Turkey. But name on rice is popular in Greece, too, very popular. All
around the Aegean i selled name on rice. I selled in Italy too; then i
came to America."
And that was when i realized that one of the pendants was looking back at
me. A thin blue tube, about an inch long, filled with pale blue fluid, it
bore a stylized eye on the bottom, a staring, unlidded blue eye. Oh boy.
The evil eye.
"Excuse me," i said, "but this pendant here -- the blue one -- is that an
eye on it?"
"Yes, that is the eye. Keep you safe or you buy for a present, their name
on rice inside, keep them safe."
"From the evil eye."
"Yes, this is from the evil eye." He paused. "But the others...other
"You mean that each of the pendants has a different meaning?" Althaea
"Yes, each one different. See...teapot. Friendship. Come with a friend,
each one name on rice, then they give to each other, stay friends."
"Okay, i want to buy one. How much are they?"
"Six dollar each, two for ten dollar. You write down name on this." He
handed me a post-it pad and a pen.
"Okay, i'll take two, but i need to know what they are for first. Why are
they filled with different colours of fluid?"
"Fluid is for colour, no meaning. You choose own fluid colour."
"Why do some have flowers in them and some not?"
"No special meaning for flowers, just for looking pretty. If you want."
"Okay...and the shapes and colours of the glass?"
"All colours, whatever you like, except eye is only blue glass. This, eye,
for babies. This, teapot, friendship. Sun is widen your horizons. Anchor
is safety and freedom. Mace is...old weapon...is power. Heart for love.
Teardrop for romance. This" -- he indicated a pale blue, vaguely
fish-shaped piece covered with little dark blue and white eye motifs --
"is also for the eye, all over eyes, but not hollow, no rice inside. This
is..." he stopped. He had come to a corno and he was embarrased to explain
it to two women. "This is Italian..."
"The corno," i said.
He gave me a flirtatious appraisal and smiled hugely. He nodded and i did
too. "Cornicello. Italian. You know? Is...you know, Italian." He shrugged,
as if to say, "Oh, those crazy Italians."
"I am half Italian myself," i said.
"Ah! You speak Italian? I major in Italian, not English. I live in Perugia
for two years."
In the end i bought a blue tube evil eye protectant for myself and an
anchor for Althaea. We asked for added sprigs of flowers. The charms are
really sweet looking, and the names are clearly readable on the rice. I
would have bought the "all over eyes" protectant too but i was short on
cash. The man gave me his business card and told me that there was a
volume discount: "Come back any time. One for six dollar, two for ten
dollar, five for twenty dollar." This is what was on his card:
R. I. PUKA
Names on Rice
3048 College Ave. #3
Berkeley, CA 94705
Phone/Fax (510) 653-6144
I intended to look him up and acquire a "all over eyes" charm
and perhaps the mace, which is very cute, the next time i was down in
Berkeley, but --
-- my darling daughter bought me an "all-over eyes" charm for Christmas. It is
hand-blown, cobalt blue, and shaped like a fat fish or a large teardrop bent back
upon itself to form a hanging loop. Studded over its surface, staring at the
beholder, are six protuberant unlidded white eyeballs, each with a brown
pupil-center. The effect is eerie and very powerful. Mr. Puka sells this charm
either as a necklace or as a key ring fob, your choice, The price is $6.00 or two
The above was written in 1995. Since then, Robert Puka has gotten
his own web site, enabling folks to buy Name On Rice amulets
directly from the source. Also in the time since i wrote up my
encounter with him, his English has improved a great deal --
which was only to be expected of such an intelligent and educated
Here's the Name On Rice URL: http://www.pukacreations.com
And if you say hello to Mr. Puka, pass along my greetings as well.
For more charms used against the evil eye see:
evil eye, apotropaic charms
cord charms intended to decay
blue eye amulets, Greek and Turkish
blue eye amulet, "all-over eyes," Turkish
blue eye amulet, "your name on rice," Turkish
blue beads on terra cotta horseshoe plaque, Middle Eastern
coral cornicelli, horns, and forks, Italian
eye-in-hand amulets, Israeli, Arabic, Indian
frijol colorado bean in Guatemalan charm vial
hamsa hand amulets, Israeli, Arabic
hamsa hand and crescent amulet, Arabic
hamsa hand on European charm bracelet
horseshoe, European and Middle Eastern
horseshoe plaque, Middle Eastern
mano fico (fig hand), Italian
mano cornuto (horned hand), Italian
SATOR square to protect cattle from the evil eye
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