According to oral tradition, the Pedi can be traced back to the Maroteng, an offshoot of the Kgatla, today an important component of the Tswana. It is believed that centuries ago, around 1500, the Maroteng were living near the source of the Vaal river. Under Chief Tabane they migrated to present-day Skilpadfontein near Pretoria. Legend has it that during the reign of Tabane's grandson, Motsha, his favourite wife, Mmathobele, was accused of giving birth to a child that 'cried while still in her womb', said to be a sign of witchcraft.
The elders demanded that mother and child be put to death. To prevent this, Thobele, who had succeeded Motsha, broke away. He and a large following, including Mmathobele and her child, went east, crossing the Olifants 'Lepelle' River near present-day Marble Hall. They settled on the Steelpoort 'Tubatse' River in about 1650. While crossing the Leolo Mountains, they are said to have found a porcupine quill on an antheap, which was taken as a good omen. From then on the Maroteng took the porcupine 'noko' as their totem and developed a distinctive identity. In time, the Maroteng established dominance over a broad region.
Opinion is divided on how the Pedi acquired their name. One theory is that the name is a corruption of Vhambedzi, the name of a Venda group living in the Leolo Mountains. It is believed that they taught the more numerous Maroteng interlopers their skills in iron-mongering. In the process, the Vhambedzi were steadily assimilated, the resulting amalgam coming to be known as Pedi.