‘Breaking Bad’: The Surprising Meaning Behind Walter White’s Last Name

Breaking Bad seems like it will be timeless. Despite the fact that the show aired its last episode in 2013, it’s still popular today. A lot of that popularity is thanks to streaming services like Netflix. Breaking Bad is incredibly binge-able.

As long as fans can watch episode after episode, it will probably never go out of style. The show’s premise hasn’t gone out of style either, although some day that could change. 

What is ‘Breaking Bad’ about?

The show follows Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher. White is diagnosed with cancer, but can’t afford the treatment. He turns to cooking and selling meth in order to pay the bills. The character, played by Bryan Cranston, evolves a lot over the course of the show. 

White’s answer to the high cost of health care may be unique, but his predicament is not. Although Breaking Bad evolves into a serious drug trafficking drama, Walter White is one of many American’s who struggle with paying for healthcare treatment.

But the show shies away from a statement about the US healthcare system. While the premise may be dependent on expensive healthcare, Walter White’s transformation is thanks to personal decisions that he makes. He may blame his circumstances, but he gets so far away from who he was that it’s hard to pin the change on a system. 

Bryan Cranston as Walter White
Bryan Cranston as Walter White on ‘Breaking Bad.’ | AMC

According to the showrunner for Breaking BadVince Gilligan, the show essentially traces White’s path “from Mr. Chips to Scarface.” It does so with beautiful visuals, and stunning attention to detail.

The imagery in the show is one of it’s best qualities and highlights the drama of White’s transformation. That’s no accident. The show’s creators put a lot of effort into streamlining the images and colors that viewers see on-screen. 

Color is very important in ‘Breaking Bad’ 

According to Gilligan, the colors in the show are significant. In a way, Gilligan and his Breaking Bad crew use color to send subliminal signals to viewers. They took the wardrobe very seriously. As Gilligan puts it: “We always try to think of the color that a character is dressed in, in the sense that it represents on some level their state of mind.”

It’s true that certain colors evoke certain emotions. For example, blue tends to make people feel calm, while warmer colors like red and orange may produce anxiety. While Gilligan doesn’t admit to using ‘color psychology’ to manipulate the emotions of viewers, he does say that the show’s creators always tried to “think in terms of” color. 

White’s sister in law Marie, for example, is always in purple. Her house is decorated with purple, and she wears purple. That’s no accident. Why purple? The show’s creators decided it would highlight an aspect of the character’s personality. “Marie would say purple is the color of royalty.”

Walter White’s name has an interesting meaning 


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The very name of the main character is also a color. That’s no accident. The surname White is very purposeful.

Gilligan says they were looking for some way to indicate that the character is bland. So they decided to give him a bland name. White is a common surname, plus as a color it is the ultimate neutral. 

The name stuck with Gilligan because “white is the color of vanilla, of blandness.” However, the show’s creators still wanted a name that would stick with viewers. That’s why they chose Walter as a first name.

Gilligan says he knew Walter White was the right name for the character as soon as he heard it. “‘Walter White’ appealed to me because of the alliterative sound of it and because it’s strangely bland, yet sticks in your head nonetheless,” said Gilligan.