Until the 1990s, if you lived in the U.S. and needed a new mattress you probably began and ended your search with the letter S. Simmons (founded in 1870), Sealy (1881), and Serta (1931) were the CBS, NBC, and ABC of the mattress world: anything else was on the far end of the dial and virtually unsupported by advertising.*
The Big Three had sturdy, uncomplicated names. Simmons was named for company founder Zalmon Simmons. Sealy took its name from its place of origin: Sealy, Texas. Serta, which began life as the nearly generic Sleeper, Inc., is harder to analyze: I’ve found no etymology for the name, although it may have been an attempt to convey “certain.” (Compare Certs, a brand of breath mints** that debuted in 1956.) Serta and Simmons merged in 2012 to form Serta Simmons Holdings.
Everything began to change in 1992, when Tempur-Pedic – originally a Swedish company called Fagerdala Foams – introduced its “memory foam” (technically viscoelastic; the visco comes from viscosity) mattresses to the U.S. Tempur-Pedic doesn’t tell a story about its name, so I’ll have to guess that it’s an altered-spelling blend of temperature, pure, and orthopedic. (The mattress material is said to respond to body temperature.) As a name, it’s an improvement, to Anglophone ears, on “Fagerdala,” which may have been an anagram of the founders’ names. Tempur-Pedic was acquired by Sealy in 2012 and is now called TempurSealy.
After Tempur-Pedic, the deluge. Foam mattresses were cheaper than traditional innerspring mattresses, and they didn’t require separate box springs. As foam technology improved, more and more companies got in on the sleepy-time action. The advent of the Internet and direct-to-consumer sales encouraged even more competition. The final disruptive turning point was the development of technology that could compress a foam mattress down to a single inch of thickness so it could be packed in a box. Today, U.S. mattress sales total more than $14 billion (the figure is from 2014), and there are dozens of mattress manufacturers – see the Sleepopolis website for reviews and comparisons – whose names reflect a wide range of naming styles. Here’s my rundown of some of the most interesting names. So as not to drive myself nuts, I’m limiting the list to nationally or internationally available brands, which means I’ve left out a bunch of Bay Area names like Ergo, Essentia, and Earthsake. Founding dates are from Crunchbase, Wikipedia, and news reports.
Casper. Founded in San Francisco in 2014 by “innovators with a combined background in product engineering, design, and e-commerce,” Casper pioneered the new model of mattress sales: delivered to your doorstep in a compact box; returnable after a 100-night sleep trial. The company says the name is unrelated to ghosts, friendly or otherwise: According to a 2015 Thrillist story, the company was named for a former roommate of one of the founders. But see GhostBed, below.
Eight. Founded in New York in 2014, this company probably wanted to name itself Smart. “Sleeping is smart,” the web copy claims, “so we made the world’s first smart bed.” (See my January 2015 Visual Thesaurus column on the overuse of smart in branding, and my February 2017 blog post on smart cremation, smart belts, smart suitcases, and more.) There’s no naming story on the website, but here’s a guess: Eight is the number of hours we’re supposed to sleep each night. Eight is also a propitious number in Asian numerology.
Eve. This London-based company, founded in January 2015, designs and manufacturers its mattresses in the U.K. and sells them – in the U.K. and the U.S. – through its website and on Amazon. The palindromic name, styled in lower case with one forward-facing and one backward-facing e, may have been suggested by the motto: “Every great day begins the night before.”
GhostBed. When you find out that GhostBed was founded in 2005, a full nine years before Casper, you start to suspect that the Casper not-a-ghost story is just a tiny bit disingenuous. Or maybe it’s just me. The company is based in Plantation, Florida, and sells box springs as well as mattresses. The tagline is “Supernatural Comfort”; the About Us page is called “Ghost Story.” According to the website, the company took its name from its founder’s childhood fear of a ghost under his bed.
Helix. Unlike many of its competitors, Helix Sleep, which was founded in New York in 2015, has a physical showroom. It also sells mattresses with separate “foundations.” The selling proposition here is “personalized” and “custom” mattresses tailored to individual sleepers’ weight, height, and sleeping preferences (side, back, hot, cold). This emphasis on uniqueness suggests an origin for the name: the double helix of DNA.
Leesa. The company, founded in 2014 and based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, sells directly to customers through its website only; as of this writing its big-name spokesman is swim champion Michael Phelps. Alas, I’ve been unable to determine the source of the Leesa name. (I queried; I got no response.) So instead I’ll tell you the story of the Cadillac Catera, which was manufactured from 1997 to 2001. An early TV ad invited viewers to “lease a Catera,” and ended with a voice asking, “Who is Lisa Catera?” The executive producer of the long-running Chicago Hope TV drama saw the spot, liked it, and invented a character for the show named Dr. Lisa Catera, who was played by Stacy Edwards. Lisa Catera lasted two seasons.
Mattress Firm. I’m cheating a little on this one. Mattress Firm is the name of a retailer, not a manufacturer, and it does business only the West Coast. But it’s huge on the West Coast, and (Thanks to the commenters who pointed out that Mattress Firm does business in 48 states.) It’s been in the news lately because it recently took over California-based Sleep Train, known for its choo-choo logo and its famous-on-public-radio tagline: “Your ticket to a better night’s sleep.” As Sleep Train, the company owned the naming rights to a sports arena in Sacramento; I always envisioned patrons in their footie PJs and sleeping bags, snoozing through a slow quarter. I can’t decided whether Mattress Firm is a dumb or clever name – there’s that double meaning of “firm,” get it? – but it’s certainly better than Mattress Soft or Mattress Lumpy.
Nest Bedding. Speaking of Mattress Lumpy, how about some twigs and leaves in your bed? Sorry; not nice. Like its competitors, Nest sells memory-foam mattresses online; it also operates showrooms throughout the Bay Area and in Chicago and New York. Its tagline, “Love Where You Sleep,” is an ever-so-subtle double entendre. The company was founded in 2011, which makes it practically prehistoric in this era of disruptive startups. The name is supported by a hand-drawn, crunchy-granola logo that suggests Nature rather than chemistry labs.
Purple. Purple was founded in 2013 by the Pearce brothers, two engineers and fly fishermen; it’s based in Alpine, Utah, population 9,555. The brand voice is jokey and even hokey (there’s a video of “Goldilocks” on the home page), a tone that carries over even to the company’s claim that its product is “so sciencey it’ll put you to sleep.” But don’t let the aw-shucks manner fool you: Purple recently sued a reviewer who raised questions about the safety of Purple mattresses. As for the name: “Why Purple? Well, why not? It is an awesome color, and it signifies treating everyone like royalty.” Here are two other interesting, maybe-not-irrelevant facts: PURPLE was the code name for the iPhone before it was the iPhone. It was also the name given by American analysts to the Japanese cryptographic machine used to encrypt diplomatic communications during World War II. Now, that’s sciencey.
Restonic. If you want to count your sheep old-school, this may be the company for you. The Restonic name – a blend, clearly, of rest and tonic – probably sounded futuristic in 1938, when the company was founded. Restonic sells a variety of mattress types, from memory foam to hand-tufted silk and wool; unlike the new-breed companies, it doesn’t publicize its prices, and you’ll have to visit a retail showroom to buy the product.
Saatva. If you find yourself researching mattresses, as I did, you’ll soon see the Saatva name muscling to the top of all of your search results. The company, which launched in 2011 and is based in Austin, Texas, is an aggressive e-marketer with a dreamy brand identity. The name comes from Sanskrit sattva (presumably misspelled to appear even less like English), which is defined as the quality of goodness, positivity, wholesomeness, and truth. Saatva sells three mattress lines: Saatva, Loom & Leaf (for a comparable name, see Tuft & Needle, below), and ZenHaven (see my Pinterest board of Zen names).
Tomorrow. When you flip over an Eve mattress, do you get a Tomorrow? Just asking. This “new kind of sleep company” that “believes in the power of sleep to change lives” is actually a cleverly concealed Serta Simmons brand that sells a “smart sleep system” (again with the smartness!) for which you can buy an optional Sleeptracker® Monitor to chart your sleep cycles, heart rate, respirations, and other obsessive-compulsive metrics. I suppose the idea is that when tomorrow comes, you’ll have evolved into a more fully sentient being.
Tuft & Needle. Ah, our old friend the X & Y name! The name suggests a tufty, quilt-stitched innerspring mattress, but in fact T&N mattresses are made from two layers of foam. The company was founded a zillion years ago, in 2012, and is based in Phoenix.
Zinus. You may be asking yourself: “If these mattresses are so smart, why aren’t they made in South Korea like my smartphone?” Well, some of them in fact are made in Korea. Zinus, which was founded in Seoul in 1987 as a manufacturer of outdoor products, makes a staggering array of mattresses – spring, memory foam, and latex – as well as pillows, slippers, “and other bed products” under various brand names, including Spa Sensations, Sleep Revolution, Night Therapy, Sleep Master, Spirit Sleep (another ghost?), and the generic Mattress-in-a-Box. For about a decade, the company has had a U.S. headquarters in San Leandro, California. And the name? I thought it rhymed with sinus, which seemed odd, but not as odd as the truth: it rhymes with penis. Why? I have no idea.
* Or narrowly regional. The best mattress I’ve ever owned was from McRoskey, which has been selling mattresses in San Francisco since 1899. If you’re confused by the name, let me clear things up: There is no Clan McRoskey; founders Edward and Leonard McRoskey were Polish immigrants whose surname, probably Makrosky, was Anglicized, or Gaelicized, sometime in the 19th century.
** Or candy mints.