GABAergic interneurons (GABA, γ-aminobutyric acid) regulate neural-circuit activity in the mammalian cerebral cortex. These cortical interneurons are structurally and functionally diverse. Here, we use single-cell transcriptomics to study the origins of this diversity in the mouse. We identify distinct types of progenitor cells and newborn neurons in the ganglionic eminences, the embryonic proliferative regions that give rise to cortical interneurons. These embryonic precursors show temporally and spatially restricted transcriptional patterns that lead to different classes of interneurons in the adult cerebral cortex. Our findings suggest that shortly after the interneurons become postmitotic, their diversity is already patent in their diverse transcriptional programs, which subsequently guide further differentiation in the developing cortex.