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Arthur Ernest Mourant

Born 1904
Died 1994

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British anthropologist and medical scientist, born April 11, 1904, near La Hougue Bie, Jersey, United Kingdom; died August 29, 1994, Jersey.

Biography of Arthur Ernest Mourant

Arthur Ernest Mourant – geologist, anthropologist, haematologist and geneticist – was a versatile scientist who made important contributions to many fields. Among other things, he has had a profound influence on our ideas about the origin of modern Europeans.

Mourant attended the Jersey Modern School and Victoria College, receiving the King's Gold Medal for Modern Languages in 1921 and the King's Gold Medal for Mathematics in 1922. Also in 1922 Mourant was awarded the King Charles' I Scholarship, which took him from Jersey to Oxford. In Oxford he spent 10 years at Exeter College, obtaining his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1925, first class honours in chemistry in 1926, and a Doctor of Philosophy in geology in 1931. His dissertation was on the geology of the Channel Islands.

He was an early advocate of the then discredited Wegener theory of continental drift, which subsequently gained acceptability as plate tectonics. When he left Oxford he failed to find a position in his chosen discipline during the depression, Mourant took a complementary course in medical chemistry and returned to his childhood home of Jersey, where he set up a chemical pathology laboratory. He worked there from 1933 to 1938.

In 1939, aged 34, Mourant returned to England to study medicine and surgery at St Bartholomew's Medical College, London. He gained the degrees of Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery in 1943, and Doctor of Medicine in 1948.

After house posts in London, Mourant became Medical Officer at the Galton Laboratory Serum Unit and in 1946 was the founder and first director of the Blood Group Reference Laboratory, London, a position that he held for 20 years.

Mourant pioneered a study of haematology of the worldwide distribution of blood groups. This work help build the genetic map of the world by studying and classifying blood groups across many populations and ethnic groups. His book, The Distribution of the Human Blood Groups (1954), definitively drew together current knowledge on blood groups and their distribution. It launched anthropology on a new scientific basis as it described the genetic evidence for biological relationships, and allowed theories of population genetics to be developed and examined. This had far-reaching effects on medicine, research into genetic diseases, blood transfusion, and public health.

The second edition much enlarged and virtually a new book, 'The Distribution of the Human Blood Groups and Other Polymorphisms', was published in 1976. These books drew together practically everything on blood groups that had been published in the world by that date. In doing so, Mourant not only appraised and utilized material in available publications but also extracted from his enormous circle of friends and acquaintances their unpublished materials for inclusion.

Amongst his many honours and recognitions, he gained a Fellowship of the Royal Society, the Huxley Memorial Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Landsteiner Memorial Award of the American Association of Blood Banks and honorary member of the Human Biology Council.

Mourant's work on blood groups and other polymorphisms provided the foundation for the new anthropology because it allowed for the separating out of genetic evidence for biological relationship from other, not purely genetically determined characters previously used for that purpose. It provided the material against which the theories of population genetics could be examined.

The information above was mainly taken from:

  • Derek F. Roberts:
    Obituary: Arthur Mourant (1904-1994).
    Human Biology, Detroit, April 1997, 69 (2): 277-279.
  • Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.

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