Color Commentary On the Names From TV's "Breaking Bad"
With shootouts, run-ins with the DEA and money laundering, AMC’s Breaking Bad — about a chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-manufacturer — certainly is an action-packed series. But beyond the, um, addicting plot lines, there’s a more subtle theme — color — and not only does it play a part in the story (blue meth, anyone?), it pertains to the names of characters as well.
High school teacher Walter White is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and to provide for his pregnant wife, Skyler White, and son, Walter White Jr., after he’s gone, the chemistry whiz turns to another colorfully-named character — a former, flunkey student of his, Jesse Pinkman — to make a high-quality, ultra pure form of meth. Their concoction, which is blue (thus their signature in the drug world), becomes the most in-demand meth in New Mexico.
The use of the names White and Pinkman as central characters is an obvious nod to Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 movie Reservoir Dogs with Mr. White and Mr. Pink as part of a group of criminals with color codenames (there’s also Mr. Blue, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Brown and Mr. Orange), hired for a diamond heist. Before that, 1974’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was about four men – who went by the color names Blue, Green, Grey and Brown — that hijack a subway train. As Breaking Bad progresses — it’s now in its fourth season — school teacher White transitions to drug kingpin and all that that includes, and falls into that same bad guy category. (Pinkman was already pretty bad to begin with.)
Not only do the main characters have color names, color is a huge supporting character in Breaking Bad. Each of the main characters is represented by a color to reflect the state of mind they're in. They’re often dressed in "their color" too and as the character evolves, so does their signature color. Show creator Vince Gilligan recently spoke to New York mag about the meaning of color in relation to Walt’s name, saying: “Character names are a situation where you know it’s right when you hear it, and ‘Walter White’ appealed to me because of the alliterative sound of it and because it’s strangely bland, yet sticks in your head nonetheless — you know, white is the color of vanilla, of blandness. “
Here are some other name-related tidbits pertaining to Breaking Bad:
Skyler: Walt’s wife often goes by Sky and frequently wears blue (sometimes sky blue). The character, who’s in her early 40s, would have been early on the Skyler name trend. The female Skyler didn’t appear the Social Security Administration’s popular name list until 1990. In fact, the name really peaked in 2000 when it rose to No. 250 on the list.
Walter Jr.: As Walt becomes immersed in the drug biz, he’s away from home — causing a disconnect between him and his teen son, Walter Jr. Because of this, Walter Jr. decides he no longer wants to share a name with his father and trades in Walter (No. 372) for Flynn, which hasn’t been on the popular name list yet but will likely grow in usage following the birth of Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr’s son Flynn Bloom.
Holly White: Walter and Skyler welcome a daughter during the series and name her Holly (No. 412). Gilligan explained that he named the character after his real-life girlfriend Holly. “Here’s some trivia: I try to put her name or an allusion to some element about her into all of the scripts,” he also told New York. “The name of the street she lived on back in Richmond, Virginia, stuff like that.”
Heisenberg: Walt, who continues to teach, creates an alias — Heisenberg — to use during his illegal dealings. Werner Heisenberg was a famed German physicist.
Saul Goodman: The hilarious dial-a-lawyer that Walt and Jesse retain revealed that his real surname is actually McGill, not Goodman. He explained that he thought his clients felt more confident with a Jewish lawyer, so he changed his name to better his business. Saul is derived from the Hebrew shā'ūl meaning “asked for” and has been on the popular name list pretty much since the 1980s. It’s currently No. 376.
Gray Matter Technologies: Before Walt became a teacher, he and grad school buddy Elliot Schwartz planned to start a company — largely based on one of Walt’s scientific discoveries — called Gray Matter Technologies. The name came from Schwartz, which is derived from the German Schwarz which means “black,” plus White (for Walter) making Gray. Walter ultimately dropped out of the project; Elliott went on to make the company a multimillion dollar, award-winning success.
Check out our post all about color names — there’s some interesting information about which color names cross over to people names... including how the name Orange once appeared on the Top-1000 names list. And read more about two 2011 celebrity babies who were given color names: Pink’s daughter Willow Sage and Alicia Silverstone’s son Bear Blu.
Now tell us what you think: What are your favorite color names? Share your favorites — Ginger? Ruby? Violet? — below. Plus, Breaking Bad fans: What do you think about the color theme in the series? Did you notice it right away?