Persuasion is Austen’s only title consisting of a single abstract noun.
As we all know, in the matter of titles, Austen liked to link two nouns (Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility) and in other works she favoured proper names or real estate. So the solitariness of Persuasion makes it a minor oddity. All the more so since Jane Austen did not actually choose it. Her brother and sister did.
The book was unpublished and untitled on her death, and Henry and Cassandra Austen brought it out in December 1817. Evidence (from Jane’s great-niece) suggests that Jane wanted to call the book The Elliots (another proper-name title), but had not made up her mind.
This might lead readers to ponder that titles, like text, are often a matter of style. A writer, when she is writing, will often have a bias for particular grammatical forms or constructions. Computer programs can analyse a text and say it is by Shakespeare and not Middleton: authors will also be trapped by these habits of style when it comes to choosing titles. Certain forms will occur to them and other forms will not. What seems to have happened with Persuasion is that Henry and Cassandra took an approach that Jane herself would have been unlikely to take, given previous evidence.
Nevertheless, Persuasion, as a title, was a brilliant stroke. ‘Persuasion’ is almost a pun, since it contains the meanings both of ‘influence’ and ‘opinion’, both of which are thematically significant to the novel: e.g. we can say both ‘She succumbed to persuasion’ and ‘She was of this persuasion’. It thus functions almost as a double-noun title in itself – it is Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility in a smaller package.
Jane Austen: Persuasion (introduction by Janet M. Todd, Antje Blank, 2006)
See a clickable index of all titles covered