Coney Island is a large neighbourhood with a beach. It used to be an island, hence the inclusion of island in its name. But it is now referred to as a peninsula because it is connected to the mainland by landfill. Not the loveliest of images, but handy.
The Coney part of its name comes from the dutch word for rabbit, conyne, and refers to the many and diverse species of rabbits which populated the island before resort development eliminated their environment.
Pretty much everyone would associate the name, Coney Island, with amusement parks and a slightly surreal escape from everyday life. The Native American name for the area is Narrioch, which means land without shadows because, due to its geographical position, it remains in sunlight all day. This, its beach and its proximity to Manhattan and the other boroughs, made it an ideal destination for a daytrip or mini-break (which I'm not sure was a term in those days, nor would the vacationing Manhattanites have taken #selfies by the beach, but let's continue...) from the 1830s on.
The first signs of garish paint and frivolity came in 1876 with a carousel. Then when the wooden horses, the drum and flute music and the 5c ticket price no longer provided the thrill they once had, amusement parks stepped up. Luna Park opened in 1903, boasting a wildly popular ride, A Trip to the Moon, where excited New Yorkers could ride on a spaceship called Luna, which was not a rocket but had flapping wings. Although the spaceship and park weren't actually named after the moon, but after one of the creator's sisters, Luna.
Coney Island has had many peaks and troughs in its existence. After World War II, there was a decline in the number of visitors to the beach resort. Gang problems in the 50s, the advent of automobiles which provided access to the more appealing Long Island beaches, and a downturn in economy were contributing factors in the demise of the area in the mid to late years of last century.
But nostalgia and entrepreneurialship have seen a revival of the amusement parks and the area, particularly in the summer. In April, 2011, the first new rollercoaster for eighty years was opened.
For all that, it is still a pretty strange place. As a contributor on urban dictionary said:
With reference to Coney Island, Brooklyn NY. As the area is populated generally by freaks and weirdos, this term refers to a person who is not of the norm.
eg. Said to a strange person - "Oh my God you are such a coney!"