Well, the strange words likely come from the times when Witchcraft had to be kept secret. You also have to admit, "athame" is a really cool word (by the way, pronounced aa-thuh-MAY).
The origin of the word "athame" is a difficult thing to try to pin down. James W. Baker suggests it may have come from Old French "attame" which was translated roughly as "to cut." This makes a certain amount of sense. The history of the USE of athames or ritual knives is equally difficult to pin down. Although some Irish Witchcraft in the 19th century or so calls for use of a "black handled knife" it wasn't a blessed knife, or a "special" knife. Both black and white handled knives were called for in certain Ceremonial Magic rituals, which is likely where Gerald Gardner got the idea, which he brought into his idea of Wicca in the 1950s.
We don't really know where the true origin of the use of an athame is from, nor do we really know where the word itself truly came from. However, that doesn't mean that it hasn't become a very useful amd almost indispensable tool
So, what types of athames are available, and what are they used for, and what kind should you get?
There are as many different types of athames available as there are knives. In some "traditional" Wicca, ONLY a black handled athame is "proper." But for we eclectics, we can use whatever we desire as an athame, whether it be a fantasy blade with Martians on it, or a white plastic dinner knife. If you feel that you can channel energy through it in order to cast your circle, then it serves its purpose.
When purchasing your own athame, look for something that appeals to you. As with all tools, what looks right to you and feels right to you, is likely the right tool to use. If a clean plain black or white handled double edged blade is what you feel most comfortable with, by all means, use that. If you are most interested in Celtic pantheons and ways, perhaps a Celtic themed athame would be more to your liking. If you are more inclined towards Egyptian pantheons, an Egyptian themed athame might be best. Remember, an athame is a tool, and like all others, the true power is within you. The tool is only a means to help you focus and project it.
When looking for an athame, it is important to make sure that you purchase on that is going to last. Ensure that the blade is firmly seated in the handle. Make sure that the length is appropriate for the way you intend to use it. Some Witches use their athames to cut as well as to cast. Ensure that your athame can be used for cutting if that is something you are going to use it for.
Enchanted Works offers several different types of athames, from the plain black handled and white handled models, through the more elaborate specialty blades. Please feel free to examine them at our altar tools link.