Straightforward question. The Pacific Ocean is
太平洋【たい・へい・よう】 and the Atlantic Ocean is
大西洋【たい・せい・よう】. What was the reasoning in using a different character for the
たい in each? And why
太 for Pacific and
大 for Atlantic?
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As the characters clearly suggest, 大西洋 simply refers to the big Western ocean. Not much confusion there.
太平洋, however, is an adaptation of the English "Pacific" Ocean. 太平 is a word in its own right that means roughly this: "peaceful" or "tranquil," or "pacific," if you will. According to the page linked at the bottom it had previously been known as 大東海.
It seems like 太 may be a simplified form of 泰, although apparently this isn't listed in all character dictionaries (note that here a person claims to have found it). The word 泰平 exists and is the same word as 太平, and based purely on shape it makes sense that one would be a 略字. So if this theory is to be believed then the 太 in 太平洋 does not mean thick/fat, but rather peace as in 泰平, because 泰 simplifies to 太, and is not to be confused with Thailand.
Lengthy discussion about it can be found here! http://homepage2.nifty.com/osiete/s539.htm