American Horror Story names & meanings for every season
With every season dedicated to a fresh story, fans never quite know what’s in store for them during American Horror Story. But what does each season’s name mean?
12 years down the line, creator Ryan Murphy shows no signs of slowing down with the horror anthology series.
Though some seasons have been more successful than others, fans are still gripped by what Murphy might have in store next.
Each name is technically a retroactive subtitle, but each tells us a lot about what’s to come. Here’s a full breakdown of the names of every American Horror Story season so far.
American Horror Story: Murder House
Ryan Murphy sets the franchise tone by naming Season 1 of American Horror Story Murder House, doing exactly what it says on the tin.
The season focuses on the story of the Harmon family, who are in the thick of dealing with issues such as miscarriage and infidelity. They decide to move into a recently restored mansion in a suburb of Los Angeles with a few strange and overly eager faces already attached to it.
As time passes and the Harmons settle into their new life, they learn more about the history of the house as well as meet the victims that often haunt the grounds. In short, it spells disaster for the already-fraught family, bringing up issues that they’d rather not deal with.
American Horror Story: Asylum
Asylum earns its title thanks to the location of the season’s story, which takes place in the fictional mental institution of Briarcliff Manor in 1964.
Jessica Lange stars as Sister Jude, who gradually deteriorates from running the institution to becoming one of its patients. Her fellow staff member Sister Eunice (Lily Rabe) also has a transition of her own, being possessed by a devil spirit who looks to cause serious harm.
Meanwhile, Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) is brought into the institution after being discovered as having a same-sex relationship, setting up a killer cat-and-mouse game with Dr. Oliver (Zachary Quinto). Keep an eye out for the alien abduction subplot.
American Horror Story: Coven
As the franchise’s third installment, Coven is named after the group of New Orleans-based witches that the season follows.
Fiona Goode (Lange) is the head honcho of the pack known as the Supreme, with the time arriving for a new leader to make herself known. New recruits including young starlet Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts) join the ranks, creating more American Horror Story memes than fans knew what to do with.
At the same time, voodoo queen Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) looks to wage war against the witches, while Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) is dug up from the dead and brought back to life.
American Horror Story: Freak Show
Another name that does as it says, Freak Show focuses on one of the last remaining shows in the US during the 1950s.
It’s the last season that fans see Jessica Lange in, starring as the show’s ringleader, Elsa Mars. While Mars is intent on singing cabaret songs that don’t fit the time period, Paulson appears as conjoined twins Bette and Dot who each have opposing ideas of what their future should look like.
Stanley (Denis O’Hare) arrives on site, intent on harming the freak show troupes in the name of profit. John Carroll Lynch stars as Twisty, a killer clown looking for revenge.
American Horror Story: Hotel
Season 5 gets its name because – you guessed it – the bulk of events take place in a hotel.
Almost all of the characters that viewers meet live in this same hotel building, each with a troubled past that ultimately leads to disaster.
Paulson kicks around as heroin addict Sally, while Lady Gaga makes her debut as the vampiric Countess. It’s safe to say any regular guest wouldn’t be getting a great night’s sleep there.
American Horror Story: Roanoke
Roanoke takes its name from the real-life events that Season 6 is based on – the supernatural hauntings of the missing Roanoke colony.
Taking place in North Carolina, a young couple moves into a house that is plagued with mysterious figures who drive them to destruction. Halfway through the season, it’s revealed that the events are taking place for a documentary, with the show’s second half depicting a sequel that was doomed from the start.
The Roanoke colony was first founded in the late 1500s, with their unknown disappearance documented during 1590. There’s no known explanation, earning the group the nickname of The Lost Colony.
American Horror Story: Cult
From past to a terrifying present, Season 7 of American Horror Story examines the fallout of Donald Trump’s 2016 election as the US President.
The name Cult arguably links to the type of behavior shown as an outcome of the results, with Evan Peters playing an alt-right figure who gets dangerously wrapped up in political propaganda.
It also touches on the Charles Manson cult, with characters changing as the season progresses.
American Horror Story: Apocalypse
Following on from Coven, Apocalypse depicts a version of the end of the world.
Cordelia Goode (Paulson) and the Coven witches are back to once again determine a new Supreme, with Jessica Lange being brought back as her Murder House character in a cameo role.
The Antichrist threatens to take over the world, with the Vanderbilt coming together to shelter from a nuclear winter. Somewhere along the way, Stevie Nicks pops in, alongside a few characters from Hotel.
American Horror Story: 1984
Instead of focusing on the events of the season, Season 9 gets its name from the time period it’s set in.
Marked as a positive comeback after the mixed reviews of Apocalypse, 1984 follows a slasher-style stay at an American summer camp, where an unknown serial killer is on the loose.
Emma Roberts takes the main role of Brooke Thompson, the new kid on the block who’s ripe for the picking. Billie Lourd stars as Montana Duke, while John Carroll Lynch returns as the eerily named Mr. Jingles.
American Horror Story: Double Feature
Moving away from plot and location, Season 10’s name covers the way that viewers watched it.
Technically, Double Feature is split into two separate stories that don’t have too much to do with the other. Part 1 Is Red Tide, following a family that encounters the strange inhabitants of a small town. Part 2 is named Death Valley, which takes a closer look at an alien conspiracy.
It’s not a tactic that American Horror Story has tried since, with fan reviews often being more negative than positive.
American Horror Story: NYC
Taking things back to where they are based, Season 11 is a murder mystery set in the Big Apple.
Set in the 1980s, the story pieces together the killings of a group of gay men, and the emergence of a new virus. Though the plot doesn’t specifically state it’s correlated to the AIDS crisis, it is a horror-style take on work that Murphy has similarly taken on in shows such as Pose.
American Horror Story: Delicate
Season 12 of American Horror Story takes its name from the book it’s based on – Delicate Condition by Danielle Valentine.
The story focuses on Anna (Roberts), a young actress trying to balance her newfound fame and a trying personal life. While trying and failing IVF treatment, she becomes suspicious that someone is purposefully stopping her from trying to have children, leading to life-threatening consequences.
You can check out everything we know about American Horror Story Season 12 here and check out our other coverage below:
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- Is American Horror Story Season 12: Delicate based on a book?
- How to watch American Horror Story Season 12: Delicate outside the US
- Is every season of American Horror Story connected?
- Is American Horror Story based on true events?