why do we name electrons by what they DON'T do? #scichat

I should preface this by saying I have done no research on this topic and I am not a chemist.

But my students are having a lot of trouble making sense of what we mean when we say nonbonding pairs and unpaired electrons.  MANY of them will point to the unpaired electrons when asked to identify the nonbonding pairs in an electron dot diagram.  It seems to me like they may be interpreting "paired" to be equivalent to "bonded" -- after all, a covalent bond is formed by two electrons, a pair.  So nonbonded electrons are unpaired, by this train of thought.

This no longer makes sense when you realize one electron alone can't be a nonbonding pair of electrons, but I don't pretend to understand everything about why this misconception happens.  This is also why I try not to use the term "lone pair" to describe a nonbonding pair of electrons.

In any case, I began to wonder why we name electrons by what they don't do:  non-bonding electrons don't bond.  Unpaired electrons are not paired.  Am I creating more confusion for my students by describing what the electrons aren't, instead of what they are?  What is the reason behind using these terms, anyway?

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